Tar Heels, Spartans open hoops season on high seas

In a game dubbed the “Carrier Classic,” top-ranked North Carolina will square off against Michigan State outdoors on an aircraft carrier docked in the Naval Harbor in San Diego.

President Obama is scheduled to attend the game, along with many active duty military in a celebration of Veteran’s Day.

Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller lead a loaded Tar Heels team that is expected to compete for both the ACC crown and national championship. Michigan State lost three key players from a disappointing 2010-11 team that was ousted in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but the Spartans are still picked by the coaches to finish third in the Big Ten.

Roy Williams has won two national titles in his eight years at North Carolina, but many are calling this his most talented roster yet. Barnes — who surprised many by not entering the NBA Draft after a stellar freshman campaign — is a preseason All-American, and Zeller is one of the country’s most polished big men. Lanky power forward John Henson was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year, and sophomore Kendall Marshall is Williams’ ideal point guard — fast with the ball and possessing excellent court vision.

Michigan State senior forwards Draymond Green and Delvin Roe headline a talented and experienced frontcourt for the Spartans, who had one of their worst seasons in recent memory in 2010-11. But questions remain in the backcourt, where Michigan State lost do-everything point guard Kalin Lucas. Sophomore Keith Appling is a combo guard that could provide scoring, while newcomers Travis Trice and Brandon Wood — a transfer from Valparaiso — will audition for the point.

San Diego weather is normally perfect, but the forecast does call for some rain over the weekend. The teams will also wear special camouflage uniforms to honor the troops.

North Carolina has won 76 of its last 81 season-openers, including six in a row, and is 10-3 all-time against Michigan State, winning the past five meetings.

TV: 7 p.m., ESPN

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