Last Saturday, the Tarheels hosted East Tennessee State and won 78-55 after just allowing 12 points in the first half. Junior Leslie McDonald scored 14 points while freshman Brice Johnson finished with 12 points.
The Pirates haven't taken the floor since Dec. 4, when they dominated Saint Andrews 111-59 and hit 18 three-pointers, a school record. The long layoff allowed the team to focus on academics and finish final exams. Some of the players admitted that with having exams, they haven't been able to watch as much tape of North Carolina as they would have liked.
ECU head coach and UNC alum Jeff Lebo will be coaching against the Tarheels for the second time of his career; the first occurred during the 1999-2000 season and Lebo's Tennessee Tech team fell 85-59.
North Carolina lost four starters (Kendall Marshall, Jon Henson, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller) in last June's NBA Draft.
This year's squad is led by sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, who will likely be drafted in the first round of next year's draft. The Tarheels also return three impact players in the backcourt with Dexter Strickland, P.J. Hairston, and McDonald. In addition to Johnson, freshmen Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto have played a role in the team's success. Paige's status for the game is uncertain with a shoulder concern, but if the lineup, will man the point guard position effectively. Tokoto, energized the crowd inside the Dean Smith Center against ETSU with a couple of highlight reel dunks.
Saturday's game represents the second of three games against teams listed in the RPI's top 100. The first contest resulted in a 76-64 loss to UNC-Charlotte. A win against North Carolina would be the program's second win against an ACC opponent and really put ECU's basketball program on the map.
The game will be broadcast on ESPNU with a noon tip-off time from the Dean Smith Center.
Prediction: Very seldom do we include predictions with our previews but with the magnitude of this game, here's what to expect. An ECU win might be too much to expect in the Dean Smith Center, but I think projecting a lop-sided win by the Tarheels might sell the Pirates short. I predict East Carolina will stay competitive throughout the contest, but North Carolina prevails with a 12-17 point win.