North Carolina (16-5, 6-1) holds a one-half game lead over Florida State (16-6, 6-2), but the Tar Heels' preparation for this game took a strange turn with Friday's news that Drew - the son of Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew - would be leaving the team immediately.
The announcement came four games after Drew lost his starting job to freshman Kendall Marshall. The timing could not be worse, with the Tar Heels set to play the Seminoles, No. 5 Duke and Clemson in succession.
Coach Roy Williams said the news caught him and the team completely by surprise, with Drew playing well during the Tar Heels' four-game win streak. Drew had a season-high nine assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes in Tuesday's 106-74 rout of Boston College.
"The last four games, Larry has been great," Williams said. "I mean, his assist-to-turnover ratio the last four games is 19 to 4. He's been the defensive player of the game two of the four games so it's a big blow to our team."
Marshall took over as starter after a 78-58 loss at Georgia Tech on Jan. 16. He learned of the news on Facebook.
"My initial thought was, 'I'm not going to sit here and lie to myself and say it doesn't hurt,'" Marshall said. "He's a part of our team. But at the end of the day, this is who we have - 15 of us. We've just got to learn to get it done."
The Tar Heels should have their hands full Sunday. Florida State is seeking to win three straight in the series for the first time and already owns a victory this season over a top-ranked Duke squad.
"Playing at North Carolina is always going to be big," sophomore guard Michael Snaer said. "They have a huge tradition there. We take it very seriously, the same as playing Duke or North Carolina, it's pretty much the same."
The Tar Heels are a better team this season, with Harrison Barnes starting to show improvement. The freshman is averaging 25.5 points in his last two games after some early struggles.
"We think Carolina is really not playing like the young, inexperienced team that they were early in the year," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "They've grown up, they've matured, they understand more and more how to play together."
Barnes should be challenged by a Seminoles' defense that is the limiting opponents to 35.5 percent shooting - the best mark in the nation.
"Leonard does a good job with defensive concepts period," Williams said. "They're long, athletic, they can get to you and bother your shot. When you think you're open, you're not quite as open as you think you are."