The Tar Heels embark on their first road game of the season tonight facing Long Beach State in the 49ers home arena before traveling to Hawaii for the Maui Classic. This stopover game has become a tradition under Roy Williams each time the Heels have traveled to Maui. In 2005, the infamous Santa Clara game happened with the Heels inexplicably losing with Raymond Felton sitting out a one game suspension. In 2009, UNC faced UC-Santa Barbara winning handily although that game was very tough for much of the first half.
UNC also continues a tradition under Roy Williams of playing a mid-major team in a true road game. Most major schools when they travel to face a mid-major opt to play at a neutral site and for the most part UNC does as well. However, in recent years, UNC has faced at least one mid-major in their building. Last season it was UNC-Asheville and in 2010 it was the very forgettable trip to Charleston. These games can be daunting considering huge swaths of the student body show up as their small school faces off against one of the big boys. In this case it offers an excellent test for this Tar heel team as they will face a hostile crowd and deal with the travails of traveling. It is certainly a good experience for the players to get under their belts at this stage of the season.
In the past two meetings against Long Beach St. in Chapel Hill, the 49ers proved to be a very tough opponent against a pair of UNC teams that were very good. The 49ers gave UNC all they could handle in a post-exam break game in 2011 and last season led by five at the half before losing by six. This season's game should be vastly different since both squads lost four starters, however it stands UNC still retained more firepower than LBSU did. Among the players LBSU lost was guard Caspar Ware who torched UNC for 29 points last season and in two games against the Heels was 7-15 from three. Also missing from the LBSU lineup is T.J. Robinson who dropped 31 on UNC in 2011 and in the game last season had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
That leaves the 49ers filling in some key positions with personnel in new roles. James Ennis currently leads the team in scoring with 16 ppg and Mike Caffey is the only other player averaging in double figures at 13 ppg. It is also difficult to get a read since this team has only played one DI opponent, a 62-44 loss to USC. LBSU does have a potentially effective post player in Dan Jennings who transferred from West Virginia and had nine rebounds in the loss to the Trojans.
The biggest question facing UNC is whether Desmond Hubert will continue to start games at center despite being clearly behind both Brice Johnson and Joel James in caliber of play. Knowing Roy Williams, it is probable Hubert is performing well in practice and doing some things Williams likes earning him a spot in the lineup. Of course, fans probably get too worked up over the starting lineup, especially knowing Williams rotates players like mad and James has been starting the second half indicating the lineup may not be rigid.
UNC 75 LBSU 62