It’s been a long time coming. Basketball fans have patiently waited for the start of the new season. They got their fix for a few months with one of the best NBA playoffs in recent memories. The NBA lockout put a hamper in basketball lovers to get their fix for the past month and a half of basketball activities. The time has ticked down to this weekend, and to this game.
The Quicken Loans Carrier Classic has been in the works for a few years, but it finally got into place over the past season. It would allow two of the top programs in the nation to face each other in the oddest conditions college basketball have ever seen. Not only is the game being played in outdoors conditions, its not even being played on land. The USS Carl Vinson will be the sight of the first big college basketball game of the year, off the coast of San Diego on 11/11/11. The away team, North Carolina Tar Heels, come in as the preseason number one team in the nation with the senior leadership of Tyler Zeller and raw talent of Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Kendall Marshall. The home bench belongs to the Michigan State Spartans and Tom Izzo.
Izzo has stated that he doesn’t think the conditions will make a big difference in the contest while Roy Williams has repeatedly suggested that this game is going to be very interesting because the surroundings of the game. Even with wind guards, 7,000 spectators, and a legit hardwood basketball floor, the game has be slightly different in the conditions of playing outside. Here’s an interesting video done by Sport Science on the issues.
The last time these two programs met was at Ford Field for the NCAA Championship in 2009. In that game, the Tar Heels dominated and claimed victorious by the score of 89-72. Now senior Draymond Green played 12 minutes in that game and had seven points. For North Carolina, now senior captain Zeller had only one point in one minute of play while versatile bench player Justin Watts had two points. As is easily seen, these are two completely different teams that the ones that were in the title game. The Spartans are relying on a lot of youth that will hopefully rally around Green.
Point Guard: Keith Appling vs. Kendall Marshall: Appling is now the starting point guard for the Spartan’s offense. While averaging six and a half points and just over an assist a game last season, Appling got better through each month of the season. He will have the tough task of defending Marshall of Carolina. Marshall was inserted into the starting rotation after Larry Drew II was ineffective and later left the team. He became the only point guard and took the most of this opportunity. Marshall is touted as the best pure point guard in the country. Appling will need to be on his A-game defensively while limiting turnovers on the offensive side.
Shooting Guard: Brandon Wood vs. Dexter Strickland: Wood is a transfer from Valparaiso. After getting his fair share of points for Valpo, he decided to get the bigger opportunity for the Spartans. In two exhibition games, Wood has scored 12 total points while relying heavily on his three-point shooting. That shooting style will stay consistent with what Michigan State wants on Friday in order to spread the ball around the court. On the other side is Strickland, and while he is the starter, there are a plethora of options for Roy Williams at shooting guard. In the exhibition game, all three shooting guards finished with 10 or more points.
Small Forward: Branden Dawson vs. Harrison Barnes: This is most exciting matchup to watch. Dawson is one of the best recruits Izzo has brought to campus in the past few years. He has averaged 12.5 points a game in the two exhibition games that the Spartans have played. He is going to have a significant role as a freshman, which is something that Izzo rarely does. Barnes is one of the highest touted players to come to college basketball in the past decade. He decided to stay for his sophomore season at North Carolina after having a streaky going around during his freshman campaign. This is a matchup where Dawson will be relied on greatly in his first ever game.
Power Forward: Draymond Green vs. Tyler Zeller: This is the best matchup to watch. Two seasoned veterans hash it out on the interior. Both have fantastic footwork and have a dandy of a jumpshot. The winner of this matchup could sway majorly of the outcome of the contest. Green wants to prove that he will forever be a Spartan, while Zeller needs to prove that he can stay healthy for a second-straight season while being a leader for the Heels.
Center: Adreian Payne vs. John Henson: It’s a potential versus potential matchup at the five-spot in the starting rotation. It’s still unknown which center will start for Izzo against North Carolina as both Payne and Nix have received a start in exhibition games. Nix is getting 17 minutes while Payne has received 21 minutes a game. Payne is the better player and gives the Spartans a chance in the frontcourt of the Tar Heels. Payne is a very physical defender that will need to work on staying out of foul trouble. Henson loves to dawdle around the rim, which is irritating for both coaches and opposing players because it’s unknown when his shot will finally go up.
The game starts at 7 p.m. eastern time on ESPN. Almost all of the spectators will be veterans of the United States Military. The honorary captains for Friday’s game are Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, both the face of the respected basketball programs.