North Carolina Tar Heels: Chris Jones

Heels, Cardinals set for matchup

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
8:15
PM ET

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – There’s no convincing Louisville players that they’re not about to face an elite North Carolina squad at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Most of the third-ranked Cardinals said they had not seen the Tar Heels play this season until they watched the Heels beat Richmond in Saturday's first game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. Despite Carolina being a shell of the team ranked No. 12 in the preseason, the Cardinals are still showing respect for the name.

Maybe a tad too much respect considering P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald did not make the trip for UNC.

“We know they’re the real deal,” Louisville’s Luke Hancock said. “It’s always going to be Carolina, it’s a top program. Coach [Roy] Williams is going to have them ready to play.”

When the schedule was released, a potential Louisville-Carolina matchup looked to be the first real test for both teams. The reality is it will be more of a barometer for the Tar Heels.

With no word on the status of Hairston and McDonald, whose eligibility is under review by the school and NCAA, Carolina will be playing with its current rotation for the foreseeable future. It’s about to hit a rough five-game stretch that includes a Dec. 4 trip to No. 1 Michigan State and a Dec. 14 home date against No. 4 Kentucky.

“We’re definitely going to try to show up -- well, we will show up -- and compete like we did today,” UNC forward James Michael McAdoo said after Saturday's 82-72 victory over the Spiders. “We’ll start focusing on games like this which are definitely huge games for us going into conference play.”

The Cardinals had the kind of win against Fairfield that coach Rick Pitino can use to grab his team's attention. After winning their first four games by an average of nearly 34 points, Pitino called their 71-57 victory on Saturday their “poorest game of the season.” He even hinted that the Cardinals might have been looking ahead to UNC.

Louisville’s postgame locker room reflected his sentiment. Players sat slumped into their lockers, the entire room void of the laughter and energy usually associated with winning. On the contrary, the Cardinals had the look and feel of a group that had just lost.

“It’s eye-opening for us just to not play as well as we want,” Hancock said. “This type of effort will lose against a lot of teams.”

Forward Montrezl Harrell, who led Louisville with 14 points and 12 rebounds, said the Cardinals played like they didn’t respect Fairfield, and it showed early.

“We should have come out and been prepared to play from the very beginning,” Harrell said. “But we weren’t and got burned for it in the first half. Playing against a team like North Carolina, if we start off like that we can really get burned and not be able to bounce back.”

Pitino even elevated the praise for the Heels, after watching his team shoot just 38 percent and his starting backcourt of Russ Smith and Chris Jones commit a combined eight turnovers.

He said North Carolina's size could give the Cardinals problems, especially with the Heels' offensive rebounding.

“You’re going to see a close game [on Sunday] -- if we don’t get blown out,” Pitino said. “If we play this way, there won’t even be a game.”

Just two games ago, Carolina players were thinking they might not belong on a court with Louisville after struggling to a 62-54 win over Holy Cross. McAdoo joked afterward that if the Heels played that poorly against the Cardinals, all he could do was “hope that Louisville played bad, too.”

The bad news for the Heels is Louisville might have gotten that one out of the way.

“We’ll come back,” Pitino said. “I don’t expect us to have two bad games in a row.”
Editor's Note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. Starting Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, we'll unveil the final six: Charleston, 2K Sports, Diamond Head, CBE, Wooden and Maui. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

When and where: Nov. 23-24 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

Semifinal schedule for the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off:

Nov. 23: North Carolina vs. Richmond (noon ET, ESPN3); Louisville vs. Fairfield (2 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Nov. 24: Championship game (1 p.m. ET, ESPN); Consolation game (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Initial thoughts: Smart move by Mohegan Sun. The casino, already home of a popular WNBA franchise, wisely has opened its doors to some of the college game’s best. Louisville and North Carolina would be headliners anywhere, and their presence here turns Uncasville into a destination getaway in late November. Odds of an upset are slim, but never count out Richmond. The Spiders always are well-coached.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: North Carolina versus Richmond. If an upset is going to happen here, this is the game. The Spiders return four of their top five scorers, and with P.J. Hairston’s status very much in question, they could give the Tar Heels a handful.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Were you expecting to see Richmond-Fairfield here? Seriously, a Louisville-North Carolina matchup in late November is a pretty nice little early-season tilt for college hoops. The defending national champion Cardinals return the core if not the heart (that would be Peyton Siva) of their title-winning team, while the Tar Heels -- with James Michael McAdoo back, and possibly Hairston (depending on criminal charges he’s currently facing), are expected to make big jumps this season. Louisville likes to defend; UNC likes to score. Not a bad combo.

Five players to watch:

[+] EnlargeRick Pitino
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsGuard Russ Smith returns to the defending champion Cardinals' lineup this season.
Russ Smith, Louisville: Russdiculous opted to return to the college game -- a very good decision. Now it’s time to see if Smith is willing to make good decisions more regularly. No one will argue his talent; now it’s time for him to showcase his IQ.

James Michael McAdoo: The talented but somewhat enigmatic player surprised some by coming back for his junior season after averaging 14.4 PPG and 7.3 RPG. He hasn't exactly been the alpha dog the Tar Heels have so desperately needed the past couple of years. Is now the time?

Cedrick Lindsay, Richmond: The senior finished second on the team in scoring, but really got good late. He averaged 16.5 points per game in his last 11 games.

Maurice Barrow, Fairfield: On a rebuilding squad that lost all-everything guard Derek Needham, last season's second-leading scorer will need to have a step up in production. If the Stags are going to compete in the MAAC, the 6-foot-5 forward will have to play a large role.

Chris Jones, Louisville: Just how good the Cardinals will be this season ultimately falls into the point guard’s hands. Literally. The highly touted juco transfer is replacing Siva -- no easy task, but he comes to campus with serious praise from Rick Pitino.

Title-game prediction: Louisville over North Carolina. Everyone will be trying to upset the king this year, so the road won’t be easy for the Cardinals. But Louisville is just too loaded with experience, even for a very good Tar Heels team.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Louisville over North Carolina
Jeff Goodman: Louisville over North Carolina
Seth Greenberg: Louisville over North Carolina
Andy Katz: Louisville over North Carolina
Jason King: Louisville over North Carolina
Myron Medcalf: Louisville over North Carolina

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