Many players for UNC resorted to trying to create their own shots off the dribble, which were easily stifled by Michigan State’s suffocating man-to-man defense. This is evident in looking at the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio: the Tar Heels only had nine assists in comparison to 16 turnovers. Whenever a team incurs more turnovers than field goal attempts made (15), that is a recipe for disaster which is just not going to cut it against a top-five opponent.
Lack of physicality
It was clear that the Michigan State frontcourt vastly intimidated UNC from the get-go. The young Tar Heel big men revealed their inexperience against Michigan State, as the group was categorically manhandled on the glass and in the paint.
The combination of first-year big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman combined to shoot just 1-11 and had their shots blocked repeatedly. Michigan State forwards Nick Ward (four blocks) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (two blocks) often bestowed their will on the struggling opposition.
The Spartans concluded the game by blocking seven shots and out-rebounding the Tar Heels by 16.
Even though head coach Roy Williams’ teams are usually known for their toughness and grit — last year’s UNC national championship team was No. 1 in team rebounding with 43.5 total rebounds per game — this year’s group will definitely go through some early growing pains as the first-year forwards try to catch up to the strength and speed of the college game.
North Carolina's best players didn't step up
Despite the fact that the entire team as a whole did not play well, the most disappointing part of the game was the realization that not even the experienced leaders could keep the Tar Heels in the game. Throughout the majority of the contest, senior guard Joel Berry II and junior forward Luke Maye were practically nonexistent.
Berry, the Most Outstanding Player in last year’s Final Four, was frequently outmatched by Michigan State’s length and size on the perimeter, being forced into poor shot selection and turnovers on numerous instances. He ended the game with seven points, three assists and three turnovers on 2-11 shooting.
Maye, who was the first Tar Heel player to open the season in the first five games with 100 points and 50 rebounds since Antawn Jamison, was also brought back down to Earth versus Michigan State, as he was missing point-blank layups and open jumpers in the process. Maye finished with a subpar stat-line in comparison to his recent ones, concluding with eight points and six rebounds on 3-13 shooting.
Although UNC is just six games into a long season, Sunday's loss exposed plenty of weaknesses on a 5-1 team.