Asheville, NC – The top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels have conference action from the brand new Kimmel Arena.
Roy Williams' squad opened up its season on Friday in San Diego and took care of business in the Carrier Classic, defeating a tough Michigan State squad on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, by a score of 67-55. Following this matchup, the Tar Heels will take part in the Las Vegas Invitational.
Eddie Biedenbach's Bulldogs fought hard, but came out on the short end of an 84-75 decision in their season-opening loss at NC State. UNC Asheville is the favorite to win the Big South Conference this season and returns a talented core highlighted by a pair of All-Conference performers. The Bulldogs went 20-14 a season ago.
North Carolina has dominated this series, winning all seven previous matchups, including an 80-69 victory in Chapel Hill last season.
The Tar Heels may have started off a bit slow against the Spartans, but their superior talent and athleticism took over, leading to the 12-point win in San Diego on Friday. All-American Harrison Barnes led the way with 17 points in the win, but it was fellow forward John Henson that made the biggest impact, as he notched 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked nine shots. Guard Dexter Strickland added 10 points from the backcourt, as North Carolina shot a solid 47.1 percent from the field overall. The Tar Heels will win most games on talent alone, but there were certainly some things that stood out in the season-opener that UNC can work on. Michigan State was able to win the rebounding battle by a large margin (49-34), including grabbing a whopping 24 offensive boards. In addition, UNC's long range shooting wasn't all that impressive, as the team knocked down just 4-of-12 from behind the arc. Still, with a frontcourt consisting of Barnes, Henson and seven-footer Tyler Zeller, a backcourt comprised of Strickland and Kendall Marshall, and some exciting newcomers like James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, this team can overcome a lot of shortcomings and still win.
Big South Preseason Player of the Year Matt Dickey led the Bulldogs with 17 points in the season-opener in Raleigh, but it wasn't enough in a nine-point setback to NC State. Jaron Lane added 13 points and eight rebounds in support, while Chris Stephenson and Jeremy Atkinson chipped in with 11 points apiece. Veteran guard J.P. Primm struggled though, connecting on just 2-of-13 shots from the floor, finishing the game with just nine points. The Bulldogs are a much better offensive squad than the opener showed. The team shot just 34.8 percent from the floor, a number held down by a dismal 29.0 percent performance in the first half. Dickey is the centerpiece on the team, but he should get plenty of help from players like Lane and Primm, the later earning all-conference second-team honors last year after pacing the team assists (154) and steals (71), while ranking second in scoring (14.6 ppg).