For the time being, the warm-up games are over for Texas. The Longhorns are heading to Vegas for Thanksgiving to face the No. 7-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. This is the first round of a four team event; either Michigan State or UCLA awaits Texas on Friday.
North Carolina has started off the season strongly, going 5-0 with its best wins coming against Stanford and Wofford. No one has really pushed Roy Williams’ team yet this season; the Tar Heels’ closest contest was an 11-point win at Wofford.
For fans of college hoops, UNC is doing things more or less as you would expect this season. The Heels play fast, they crash the glass, they have plenty of size, and they blend highly-rated recruits with experienced upperclassmen — most of whom were also at one point highly-rated recruits. There are multiple players capable of becoming a major problem for Texas at some point in the game.
The best of those players are 6’9 senior Luke Maye and 6’6 freshman Nassir Little. Maye has played for the Heels for what seems like forever, and he remains a physical player who can score around the basket as well as hit shots from distance. Little was among the most highly-rated players in the current freshman class, and thus far has not disappointed; he is a do-everything forward/wing.
While these are the best players, everyone who will see the floor for the Heels can play. And like North Carolina teams have had for decades, there are big guys galore. Cameron Johnson is a 6’9 stretch forward, but one who also bangs inside. Sophomore big men Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley are also of to a strong start to the year.
While Joel Berry finished his college career last year, Williams’ back court is still in good hands. Berry’s longtime running mate Kenny Williams is a senior, and Texas will need to keep someone on him to prevent him from getting clean perimeter looks. Five-star freshman Coby White takes the bulk of the remaining minutes alongside Williams, while Brandon Robinson will rotate into the game. Seventh Woods will not, as he will miss the game with a concussion.
This is a big test for Texas in a lot of different ways. The Texas defense has been excellent so far through the season, but the Longhorns have yet to face an opponent with the firepower of the Tar Heels. In particular, this will be a challenge for the Texas big men to hold their own on the interior and on the glass. Following the usual pattern, North Carolina is once again one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation.
The game tips in Las Vegas at 6:30 p.m. Central and airs on FS1.