Tonights marquee matchup between third-ranked MSU and sixth-ranked North Carolina is one of the highlights of the second year of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The game - which saw MSU prevail last year, 86-76 - is a rematch between the teams.
The battle of North Carolinas and MSUs front lines will again be an essential component of deciding who prevails in this years contest.
North Carolinas front line is led by 7-foot center Brendan Haywood and 6-foot-11 forward Kris Lang. The Tar Heels are also bolstered by the return of All-American football player, forward Julius Peppers. Tonights contest marks the return to the hardwood for Peppers after his football regular season ended.
MSUs front line managed to help keep the Tar Heels off the boards last year, as the Spartans ended the game with a 43-28 rebounding advantage. Haywood and Lang were held to a scant eight points and three rebounds combined for the game. North Carolina was forced to turn elsewhere on the boards as guard Jason Capel led the team with nine rebounds.
We tried to keep the ball out of Haywoods hands as much as possible, senior forward Andre Hutson said of last years matchup. With the help of our wings, we forced him out away from the basket and out of the lane.
The Spartans will attempt to combat the Tar Heels size advantage tonight with a deeper bench and quicker big men. Hutson, along with sophomore guard Jason Richardson and sophomore forward Al Anagonye, will lead the team into the game with the experience of facing the Tar Heels last year.
MSU head coach Tom Izzo said freshman center Zach Randolph and redshirt freshmen, forward Adam Wolfe and center Jason Andreas, need to be ready to play.
All of our bigger guys can expect to see action in the game, Izzo said. Its hard to predict exactly how many minutes everybody will play, but in case of foul trouble we will need everybody we have.
Randolph said he doesnt feel added pressure facing a top-ranked team on national television.
I am not worried about the high level of importance surrounding this game, Randolph said. I just have to get into the frame of mind where I want the ball, and go out and play as hard as I can.
MSU faced a similar opponent to the Tar Heels style Nov. 13 against the Harlem Globetrotters. The Globetrotters featured athletes who were bigger, but not as quick as the Spartans.
Randolph said the experience of facing 7-foot-1 Globetrotter center Ernest Brown was helpful preparation going into tonights game.
Facing the Globetrotters and a player like Brown was important in preparing for North Carolina, Randolph said. I tend to play better against bigger guys because it gives me the chance to move more and use my speed as an advantage in the post.
Izzo said the MSU will have to use its speed to compete with the Heels size.
If we can rebound and get the ball out on the wings, this will be the perfect game to use our quickness and get by their big guys, Izzo said.