The first big game of the college basketball season tips off tonight in a unique environment. Top-ranked North Carolina meets Michigan State on an aircraft carrier in San Diego. The game will be played on the deck where the flights normally land and we’ll get the unusual atmosphere of seeing organized basketball played as the sun goes down (The 7 PM ET start on ESPN will be a 4 PM tip local time).
North Carolina started to find its form last year after the New Year when the inserted Kendall Marshall at point guard. Up to that point a team that had tremendous size and potential on the frontline had floundered for a season-plus due to the inability of a true playmaker to make the offense function. Marshall filled the role, the Tar Heels took off and didn’t stop until they’d won the ACC crown and then advanced to the regional final of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Kentucky. Marshall is back and so is the loaded front line. 6’10” John Henson and 7’0” Tyler Zeller are pure post players and rebounders, while 6’8” Harrison Barnes is a National Player of the Year candidate and capable of doing it all. The Tar Heels are as loaded as their high preseason ranking suggests.
Michigan State would appear to be outmatched in this game as the Spartans are rebuilding in a year where they look to be several notches behind Big Ten favorite Ohio State. Tom Izzo returns guard Keith Appling and 6’7” forward Draymond Green who is a respectable scorer and good rebounder. Rebounding is something Izzo’s teams always do well and to that end he’ll break in young frontline starters in 6’9” Alex Guana and 6’10” Adriene Payne. They’ll both be tested hard on Friday night.
The game will be played under the watchful eye of the Commander-in-Chief, as President Obama will be in attendance and it’s a fun way to really get college basketball rolling for another year.