The North Carolina Tar Heels begin play in the Maui Invitational on Monday, as the team takes on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in first-round action from the Lahaina Civic Center.
The winner of this game will take on either Butler or Marquette in the next round on Tuesday.
Roy Williams' squad opened the season with two straight games at home, disposing of Gardner-Webb (76-59) and Florida Atlantic (80-56) rather easily. The team then embarked on a five-game road trip that began with a 78-63 victory at Long Beach State, will continue with three games in this event, and conclude with a showdown with top-ranked Indiana in Bloomington as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 27. North Carolina has had great success in this event, posting a stellar 13-2 mark, winning tournament titles in 1999-2000, 2004-05, 2008-09, while reaching the title game in both 1989-90 and 1995-96.
Rick Ray is in his first season at the helm in Starkville and it has been a mixed bag in the early going, as the Bulldogs suffered a 56-53 loss in the season-opener at Troy, but bounced back with a 78-58 rout of Florida Atlantic at home four days later.
This marks the sixth all-time meeting between these two teams, with North Carolina winning all five prior matchups, with the last meeting coming in the 2010 NIT, a 76-74 Tar Heel victory in Starkville in second-round action.
While the loss at Troy showed MSU to be a team without offensive punch, the Bulldogs redeemed themselves at home against FAU, playing well at both ends of the court. The team shot a solid .490 from the floor, while four players notched double figures in terms of scoring. In addition, MSU forced 27 turnovers and recorded five blocks. The surprising part of it was that the team did all that without the services of junior guard Jalen Steele for much of the game. Steele suffered a head injury as well as a fractured wrist in the game and is currently out indefinitely. Sophomore Roquez Johnson led the way in the win over the Owls with 17 points off the bench. Freshman Fred Thomas poured in 16, followed by fellow freshmen Craig Sword and Gavin Ware with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Clearly, the youngsters have made their presence felt early on and will need to continue to do so during this event.
The Tar Heels made a brief layover in Long Beach on their way to Hawaii, but the 49ers probably wished they hadn't. Despite shooting just 40 percent from the floor in the game, North Carolina still posted a double-digit win, thanks to a huge advantage on the boards (55-39) and turning on the jets in the second half after leading by just a single point at the break (33-32). Sophomore James Michael McAdoo just missed his third straight double-double to start the season, finishing the game with 18 points and nine rebounds. Freshman Marcus Paige was instrumental in the win as well, adding 15 points, while sophomore P.J. Hairston and freshman Brice Johnson finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively. McAdoo has certainly thrust himself into the national consciousness, putting up 21.0 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in the early going. Junior Reggie Bullock is the only other Tar Heel currently in double figures at 10.0 ppg, but it could be only a matter of time before youngsters like Johnson (9.3 ppg), Paige (7.7 ppg) and Hairston (7.0 ppg) join the group.