MVSU-North Carolina Preview
After playing its first two games in uniquely thrilling settings, North Carolina may find its home opener to be more anticlimactic than usual.
Back in Chapel Hill after an exciting cross-country trip, the top-ranked Tar Heels will try to avoid a letdown Sunday when they host Mississippi Valley State as part of the Las Vegas Invitational.
North Carolina (2-0) has had a week off since returning home from Asheville, where it helped UNC Asheville open a new arena and won 91-75 in front of a sellout crowd in coach Roy Williams' hometown.
Before that, the Tar Heels began their season with a 67-55 victory over Michigan State on an aircraft carrier docked in San Diego, a game Williams called "an unforgettable experience."
Facing the Delta Devils (0-2) in a more familiar environment may not create as much adrenaline, but the coach said he's not concerned about his players' preparation.
"If you look at Sports Illustrated, Mississippi Valley State is picked to make the (NCAA) tournament," Williams said. "That was a surprise to me, but I did see that and I will mention that to them.
"Most of the time my teams don't get really fired up or really down," he added. "We're going to get a very good shot - if not the best shot - from everybody we play."
Mississippi Valley State's best shot probably won't be good enough to beat the loaded Tar Heels, the near-unanimous No. 1 thanks to star trio Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson.
Each of those three had at least 17 points against UNC Asheville, with Zeller scoring a game-high 27 and Henson grabbing 12 rebounds to key a decisive North Carolina advantage on the boards.
UNC also has an influx of younger talent, with freshmen P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo combining for 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in Asheville in limited minutes off the bench.
That duo could be due for more time on the court this week, with the Tar Heels hosting the Delta Devils and Tennessee State.
"I've got to get them a few more minutes. I don't want to give somebody minutes without them doing something in practice to deserve it, but I think those youngsters have," Williams said. "James Michael and P.J. both, they both have an ability to score. They're both good defensively."
Mississippi Valley State hasn't been great defensively in its first two games, allowing 80 points each in losses at Notre Dame and DePaul. The Blue Demons shot 51.8 percent in their 80-70 win Monday.
The Delta Devils, who tied for second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference last season, are 8-50 on the road under coach Sean Woods. They've never faced North Carolina.
They've used a balanced approach on offense in their first two games, with three players averaging 12.0 points.
With their tallest player listed at 6-foot-9, the Delta Devils may struggle to slow the 7-foot Zeller, who feasted on UNC Asheville's smaller lineup. Zeller was 8 of 13 from the field and 11 of 13 from the line in that game.