SAN DIEGO -- Thursday afternoon, North Carolina’s shootaround on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson paused suddenly when the public-address person announced the retiring of the colors. The Tar Heels’ players, standing solemnly at attention, laughed when they learned it was only a trial run.
“Everyone keeps taking it seriously because they have guns,’’ senior Tyler Zeller said, referring to the sailors all over the ship.
Still, expect a short game stoppage, for real, around sundown on Friday for the ceremony.
Other things to watch as the top-ranked Tar Heels open the season against Michigan State in the Carrier Classic:
1. SHOOTING PERCENTAGES
One of UNC’s goals is to shoot better from the outside this season. But it’s probably going to be hard to judge any improvement from this game. Numbers show that shooting percentages decrease in vast arenas with tall ceilings, such as domes. And playing on the deck of an aircraft carrier means the roof is sky-high.
“You do have very bright lights from some angles when you’re shooting, from other angles you have clear skies, which is different for your depth perception,’’ UNC point guard Kendall Marshall said. “But at the end of the day, both teams are having to deal with this, and it’s just a matter of being mentally tough enough to go out there and execute.”
Don’t get too distracted by the camo unis both UNC and Michigan State will be sporting – because Tar Heels coach Roy Williams has promised a surprise in his wardrobe, as well. Red-white-and-blue tie? Combat boots? Jumpman jumpsuit? Stay tuned.
3. HARRISON BARNES
A year ago, the now-sophomore began his college career with a forgettable performance, shooting 6-for-12 but missing all three of his 3-pointers in a season-opening victory over Lipscomb. Now stronger, a better ballhandler and aiming to go to the free-throw line more often, expect a more notable start for the pre-season All-America.
4. A FAMILIAR FOE
The last time Brandon Wood faced the Tar Heels, he connected on 12 of 19 shots (6 of 10 from 3-point range) and scored 30 points. He was playing for Valparaiso at that time, in November of 2009, and his team still lost. But now that the graduate-school transfer is slated to start for Michigan State, the Spartans are hoping he might be able to repeat that kind of damage.
5. AUDIENCE REACTION
If you’re able to catch sight of the fans in the stands, take a moment to notice. Most of them will be from the five branches of the military, including some wounded warriors. This event, both coaches have said, is meant to say thank you to them.
“It's bigger than a game,’’ Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It's bigger than North Carolina against Michigan State. It's kind of a dream come true for us. In a small, small way, I think we feel we're giving a little bit back, and maybe recognizing the people that deserve to be recognized, instead of just the athletes."
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.