CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Just arrived in Chapel Hill, where I expect to see a pretty good game tonight between the Tar Heels and Michigan State. Both have been smacked in the mouth a little bit in the early season, with North Carolina taking a big hit from Syracuse and the Spartans sent tumbling on Friday night by Florida.
It's hard to glean a lot of absolutes out of a December game, but I do think there are a few things worth keeping an eye on:
1. How does Larry Drew handle the Spartans backcourt? The growth of the UNC point guard is pivotal to the Heels' development this year and while he's handled himself well, he -- and his entire team -- have turned the ball over too much. The Tar Heels are averaging 17.3 giveaways a game and tonight will be facing the toughest backcourt they've seen in this early season. Carolina's ability to take care of the ball will be a big key.
2. Tom Izzo called North Carolina a "forest of redwoods'' when I spoke with him on Sunday night, laughingly saying "it's unfair for one team to have that many guys.'' He's right. The Heels' frontcourt is as deep as it is big. That's literally a tall order for a Michigan State team that goes no bigger than 6-8. Izzo thought the Spartans' defense and rebounding kept them in the game despite 23 turnovers against Florida, but hitting the boards will be tougher tonight and even more critical.
3. Is Raymar Morgan finally and completely back? He's basketball's Job, done in last year by mono, pneumonia, a broken nose and now this season a foot injury and high ankle sprain that sidelined him for 21 days. Against UMass he finally looked like himself, notching 17 points and five rebounds. But Morgan hasn't gone for double-digits in scoring in back-to-back nights since the beginning of March. Can he do it here?
4. Finally, I know Michigan State says this is not a revenge game but I still have to think that the Spartans are looking to at least restore their dignity tonight. I'm anxious to see just how amped the Spartans are, carrying their own pride as well as toting the Big Ten's hopes on their shoulders. This is supposed to be the Big Ten's year, considered the deepest and most talented conference by a lot of people (present company included) at the start of the season. Penn State beating Virginia was a nice start for league in its quest to finally win the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. This would be a slightly larger feather in the cap.