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November 19, 2011Top-ranked Carolina returns to action Sunday at 2 p.m. against Mississippi Valley State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
This will be the first home game of the season for the Tar Heels (2-0), who began the year with a whirlwind tour of the country and aboard an aircraft carrier against Michigan State.
Now UNC has had a week to jettison the jetlag and work on what it did well and not so well against Michigan State and UNC Asheville in the first two games.
"Defensively, I think we played all right [in the first two]," junior guard Dexter Strickland said. "In the first game against Michigan State, we should have played much better. They beat us on the boards. We could have done a much better job there.
"But as a team, I think we played well. We had some mistakes, but those are little mistakes we can fix."
The Delta Devils will not be intimidated by the Smith Center or the Tar Heels. Their schedule is annually filled with a lot of "at" games against big-name schools. A year ago, it was Georgia, Indiana, Brigham Young, Southern Miss, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and Marquette.
This year, the Devils have already played Notre Dame and DePaul.
Coach Roy Williams anticipates the best the Delta Devils can produce, and he said that he believes his team will believe him when he tells them Mississippi Valley State can and will play hard and well.
"I think there will be some trust there," Williams said. "If I tell them something, they will trust that. Not that you need to do it, but if you look at Sports Illustrated, Mississippi Valley State is picked to make the tournament.
"That was a surprise to me. I will mention that to them. Very seldom have I come in and said our team was not ready to play. We may not play as well as I would like, but you have to understand we're going to get a good shot, if not the best shot, from everybody we play."
After having a chance to get on the court and perform together, Williams and the players saw where the team stands after a month of practice.
This team is one of the most gifted in the country, without a doubt. It has some new players, James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston in particular, who will contribute to an otherwise experienced lineup. And McAdoo and Hairston are gifted players in the Carolina tradition.
"I'd like for us to push it more, run more," Williams said. "I think the freshmen, [Hairston] and James Michael will be able to help us. We need to get them more time."
Strickland said that the veterans have been impressed with McAdoo and Hairston, their physical skills and how they are adapting so quickly.
"They add a lot to our team," Strickland said. "McAdoo, his presence in the post is big for us. P.J., his ability to shoot, his athleticism, and being able to play great defense has made our team very good."
Sophomore Reggie Bullock is also making a significant contribution with his defense and hustle.
The Delta Devils have talent as well. Paul Crosby, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward senior forward, is a preseason first-team all-conference selection.
Mississippi Valley State is coached by Sean Woods, who played at Kentucky. He is the player who hit the shot that put the Wildcats ahead in the East Regional final game against Duke in Philadelphia in 1992 before Christian Laettner scored the final bucket in the famous overtime victory that propelled the Blue Devils to the Final Four and eventually their second consecutive national championship.
Woods is as spirited as ever. In the season-opener at Notre Dame, he got so angry about the officials' work, he stomped down the sideline and slung his suit jacket over the MVSU bench.
He was accessed two technical fouls and ejected from the game.
Given Carolina's consistent effort to attack the rim on fast breaks and with its big men in the half-court game, Woods probably is not going to be happy with the difference in foul shooting on Sunday, either.
But being unhappy with the officials and intimidated are two vastly different emotional states. The Devils may wind up with the first, but they almost assuredly will not be the latter.