Roy Williams' Tar Heels went 29-8 a season ago, captured the ACC regular season title with a 14-2 mark and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight. This year's squad is composed of some the best talent in the country, as UNC seeks a national title.
Tom Izzo's Spartans took a step back in 2010-11. The team finished with 19 victories, but was a mere .500 in Big Ten play. While the team has lost some star power, there is still talent around and the hope is that Michigan State can bounce back and re-establish itself as a Big Ten power.
The Tar Heels hold a 10-3 advantage in the all-time series with Michigan State and have won five straight against the Spartans heading into this contest.
Four of North Carolina's projected starters are on the Wooden Award watchlist, so there is obviously plenty of firepower in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels won the ACC a year ago at 14-2 and finished with 29 wins overall. It all starts in the frontcourt with sophomore forward Harrison Barnes. A unanimous Preseason All-American, the 6-8 youngster is coming off a freshman campaign in which he averaged 15.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Perhaps the best wing player in the country, Barnes is joined up front by two more possible first-round NBA selections in junior John Henson and senior Tyler Zeller. The 6-11 Henson is both a rebounder (10.1 rpg) and shot blocker, who can also contribute at the offensive end (11.7 ppg). The pivot is where the 7-0 Zeller will spend his time after averaging 15.7 points and 7.2 rebounds a year ago. Waiting in the wings is 6-9 freshman James Michael McAdoo, who is simply too good to keep on the bench. The backcourt is just as loaded, with starters Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland being joined by highly touted freshman P.J. Hairston. A 6-3 sophomore, Marshall (6.2 ppg, 6.2 apg) may be the best point guard in the country already and Hairston is a McDonald's All- American who could vie for ACC Freshman of the Year.
After going 19-15 last year and splitting their 18 Big Ten bouts, the Spartans hope for a revival of sorts. The cupboard isn't bare in East Lansing, although it lacks the depth that Izzo had assembled earlier in his tenure when MSU was winning one conference crown after another, making Final Fours and winning national titles. MSU has now reached the NCAA Tournament 14 years in a row and guys like Draymond Green (12.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Keith Appling (6.4 ppg) are expected to carry the mantle now that former standouts Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers have moved on. Green is actually one of the top players in the Big Ten coming into the season, and Izzo hopes that the rest of team rallies around him and puts it all together quickly. A newcomer who should help round the team into form is 6-6 forward Branden Dawson, a McDonald's All- American who could be a key contributor right out of the gate.