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UNC prepares for strange carrier conditions

Tuesday, in front of a gaggle of reporters, Kendall Marshall was in the middle of a typical athlete-speak cliche when he caught himself and stopped. The question: How would UNC adjust if the forecasters projecting rain prove prescient?

"You know, that's part of the game," Marshall said, before breaking into laughter along with the rest of the room. "Well, not playing outside. The adversity, though, things like that."

Marshall's reconsideration was a brief comical reminder of just how unusual No. 1 North Carolina's season opener vs. Michigan State Friday -- part of the much-hyped Carrier Classic event on the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego -- will truly be. If the rain comes, a game that was supposed to be on the deck of a massive warship will move into that warship's hangar bay. And that's only Plan B. Plan A is to play the game above deck, outdoors, in what promises to be a windy climate at best.

Marshall, teammate Tyler Zeller, and UNC coach Roy Williams were all asked to describe what they expect from Friday night's game. But since none of the trio has any experience playing or coaching basketball games on aircraft carriers, the default response was "wait and see." Williams was confident the bleachers around the court would obscure some of the more fantastic effects of the location; players on the floor wouldn't be able to see much more than the fans around them. But playing outdoors is a different beast altogether.

"When you first walk out there and look behind the stands and see how much more room you have -- I mean, it is gigantic," Williams said. "But I think it will be pretty similar to what we do.

"It's just that kids don't play outside anymore," Williams said. "A hundred years ago when I was playing we played outside a lot more than we ever got in the gym. ... I really do believe the elements will be a big factor in the game. You've got to be able to make adjustments."

Marshall confirmed this generational divide; he said he always played indoors growing up, that the era of playing primarily outside "must have been before his time." Marshall would much rather play indoors. Zeller agreed.

"[I'd rather play] indoors," he said. "I think people will figure that out with all the articles that we'll have complaining about the wind. It's something that always crosses your mind, but you've just got to go out and do what you do best."

If North Carolina has a trump card in this outdoor battle -- provided the battle even ends up outdoors -- could it be the Tar Heels' summer outdoor games on campus courts in Chapel Hill? Marshall, Harrison Barnes and others frequently hosted impromptu pickup games outside this summer; regular students lined up for a chance to play the prospective No. 1 team in the country.

Maybe it's silly, but hey, any little bit helps, right?

"I think Michigan State is a little bit better than the guys we play outside on our campus," Marshall said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Of course, part of the excitement is playing on the carrier, playing outside, people having questions about how it's going to work. We're just going into it focused on our opponent. We'll deal with everything else when we get out there."