University of North Carolina Athletics
University of North Carolina Athletics

By Adam Lucas

CHARLOTTE — Every time Carolina and Michigan State meet, it’s another reminder that the Spartans are perhaps most similar to the Tar Heels — especially under Roy Williams — in how they approach games like this one and how their head coach interacts with the media.

Michigan State, to put it simply, is very likable, and they’re almost always in settings like Friday’s media availability before Saturday’s NCAA Tournament second-round game. The Spartan players — Malik Hall, Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard — were confident without seeming cocky, funny without being goofy, and intelligent without seeming overbearing.

And Izzo, of course, is Izzo. Close your eyes and you can very easily listen to Williams in the sense that this is a coach who has been successful for a very long time and has no reason to pretend anymore. He poked fun at himself for losing narrowly to Carolina in the 2009 championship game, but he also — despite being repeatedly reminded by the media that he’s never beaten the Tar Heels in the postseason — had a quiet confidence about tomorrow’s match.

Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. tip-off has the feel of a regional final instead of the Round of 32.

Notes: The main singles match includes RJ Davis facing Tyson Walker, a junior at Michigan State. That name should sound vaguely familiar — he was on the Northeastern team that was a late addition to Carolina’s schedule in February 2021. Walker walked into the Smith Center and shot 8-for-15 from the field while hitting four of his seven three-pointers in an 82-62 Tar Heel victory on his way to 27 points. Asked to describe Walker’s game, teammate Hall just laughed. “He can score that…” And then he said, uh, something roughly equivalent to “basketball.” “Whatever it is, he does everything we could ask of anybody,” he added. And Izzo had a lot of praise for Davis. “He’s probably the best guard in the entire country if you look at everything he does,” the Michigan State head coach said. “He makes tough shots, but not crazy shots.”…

With all the connections between the programs, it’s only fitting that Doug Wojcik has the Tar Heels scout for Michigan State. Wojcik, of course, was an assistant coach for the Tar Heels under Matt Dougherty, and his son Paxson is a Carolina backup. Doug and Paxson faced the same situation last year when Paxson’s Brown team lost 68-50 in East Lansing. Paxson recorded 10 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists in that game. “On the bright side,” Izzo said, “Doug is going to Los Angeles either way. He will either go with Pax or he will go with me.”…Hubert Davies spoke briefly Friday about his father’s basketball career at Johnson C. Smith, where the Tar Heels practiced Wednesday. The elder Davis, who grew up in Pineville, is in Charlotte this weekend to watch his son…

Another player who has participated in a similar match is Cormac Ryan, who shot 8-for-11 from the field (including 6-for-7 from three) in scoring 23 points against Michigan State last season when he played for Notre Dame. “They’re a physical team,” Ryan said. “They’re good on defense and really good on half court defense. They like to push the pace in transition.”… That transition game could be key on Saturday. In two games in the Big Ten tournament, one a narrow loss to Purdue, the Spartans had a 37-6 edge in fast-break points. The slow-moving Wagner did a good job controlling the tempo in the first half Thursday, but Carolina put up 14 fast-break points in the second half. The Tar Heels have been beaten in transition just three times all year, but none in the last 15 games…

Interesting point from Izzo: “(Harrison) Ingram and Hall are going to be a big matchup in this thing,” he said. “It’s not always the first (matchup) you look at.” Hall is MSU’s leading rebounder with 5.6 boards per game. Ingram, meanwhile, showed a more varied offensive game in the win over Wagner, with five of his seven field goal attempts coming from two-point range after relying too much on the three in recent contests.. Isaiah Hicks, 2017 National Champs , was a guest on this week’s Carolina Insider podcast. Hicks, who has been pretty quiet during his Tar Heel career, gave a great interview. In addition to the linked audio of the podcast, the video of the interview is available here.

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