RALEIGH, N.C. — The RBC Center here in Raleigh seats 19,722 people when filled to capacity. Most of those chairs will be filled with Carolina blue today when ninth-seeded Arkansas takes on top-seed North Carolina.
But that reality doesn't intimidate Arkansas sophomore Patrick Beverley. He realizes the second-round matchup will feel more like a trip to Gainesville, Lexington or Starkville than an NCAA Tournament game.
"We understand that the majority of the crowd ain't going to be cheering for us, that's for sure," Beverley said. "But it's just another game. ... Playing in the SEC, you play against a lot of hostile crowds and hostile environments. That's something we've gotten used to."
The task of defeating No. 1 North Carolina is hard enough in front of an impartial audience. North Carolina has five McDonald's All-Americans on its roster, led by likely national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough and future pros such as sophomore guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Arkansas has no high school All-Americans.
Yet the Tar Heels hold a further advantage because the NCAA Tournament committee placed them here in Raleigh for the East Regional, just 22 miles from their campus in Chapel Hill.
During the first half of North Carolina's 39-point, first-round victory on Friday, the Razorbacks watched in amazement as the Tar Heels fed off their raucous supporters.
"This will not be the typical NCAA neutral-site game," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "This will be a road game for us. I mean, I don't think anybody is going to dispute that. We understand that. We don't have a whole lot of choice in the matter. It's not like it was a scheduled game for us."
"It is what it is."
North Carolina is 22-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in its home state. And Lawson didn't hide his opinion that the RBC Center felt like the Dean Dome when North Carolina blistered Mount Saint Mary's.
"It felt like a home game (Friday)," Lawson said. "The whole place was filled with Carolina blue, and it got very loud when we scored."
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams scoffed a bit Saturday when asked about a possible home-court advantage. He joked that teams should lobby the NCAA to determine seedlings and sites and then "not play the games, go have a party and move on the people who play closest to home."
In particular, Williams remembered his 1995 Kansas team that won first- and second-round games to advance to the Sweet 16 at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo. Less than an hour from their campus in Lawrence, Kan., the top-seeded Jayhawks were beaten by fourth-seeded Virginia.
"You've still got to play the game," Williams said. "I was a pretty dadgum good student, and I know a lot about geography. Virginia is nowhere near Kansas City and they beat our ass in that building, and those fans didn't help us win."
Still, the Razorbacks know what kind of atmosphere they'll encounter. They refuse, however, to be intimidated.
"I'm excited to be in an environment like this, and I'm not discouraged or fearful about it at all," Pelphrey said. "It doesn't scare me, and it doesn't scare our players. This is what makes this whole thing special."
Arkansas and North Carolina have played six times in the schools' histories, competing on neutral courts all six times. The Razorbacks have won three, and the Tar Heels have won three.
Season Winner Score Site
1978-79 North Carolina 63-57 Greensboro, N.C.
1980-81 North Carolina 64-58 Anchorage, Ak.
1983-84 Arkansas 65-64 Pine Bluff
1989-90 Arkansas 76-73 Dallas*
1992-93 North Carolina 80-74 East Rutherford, N.J.*
1994-95 Arkansas 75-67 Seattle*
* — NCAA Tournament games
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