IOWA CITY, Iowa - Opportunity has knocked twice for Iowa this season. The Hawkeyes failed to answer.
It comes calling again on Wednesday when they travel to North Carolina (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN). The ACC-Big Ten Challenge provides Iowa another chance to prove it's worthy of the Top 25 ranking it held in the preseason.
The Hawkeyes (5-2) are riding a three-game winning streak following home victories last week against outmanned Pepperdine, Northern Illinois and Longwood. They also stomped Hampton and North Dakota State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the first two contests of the year.
In between those two dominating stretches, Iowa fell to Texas and Syracuse on national TV in the 2K Classic at New York City's Madison Square Garden. The Hawkeyes rebounded last week, building confidence and wondering how far they've come.
"I think we're ready for it," point guard Mike Gesell said. "These are the types of game as a player you love to play in. It's going to be a great environment. It's our first true road test this season, We'll see how tough we are."
"It's going to be a fun game," Gesell said. "Obviously, I'm close with Marcus. We talk quite a bit. Just getting to see him again and just going to play in a hostile environment, the crowd is going to be rocking, it's going to be a fun place."
Some of the game's greatest players have gone through the campus in Chapel Hill. Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter, Harrison Barnes, Kenny Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Sam Perkins and Jerry Stackhouse are just some of the names that built UNC into an elite program.
Paige represents the face of the team these days. The Marion (IA) Linn-Mar High product averages a team-best 15.2 points and 3.5 assists for the 5-1 Tar Heels.
"I don't think that will be a factor," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said of the emotions with three former AAU teammates clashing . "I think, you know, the magnitude of the game itself is, I think, going to supersede that.
"I know they all love each other. They're close, their families are close. They follow each other, they root for each other. It's an incredibly respectful relationship. But that's one night where we're going to try to beat them, they're going to try to beat us."
McCaffery was hired by Iowa in the spring of 2010. Paige verbally committed to the Tar Heels during January of the following year despite the Hawkeye coach's best efforts to keep him home.
"I think we had a good relationship," McCaffery said. "A little bit longer would have helped. A little longer would have given him an opportunity to see where we were going with the program.
"I think it was two fold. He needed to do get comfortable with us and he needed to get comfortable with where (we were) going because if he didn't like where we were going, wouldn't have mattered how much he liked me. So he needed to believe in me and believe in us. It was an easier call for him at that time."
The Hawkeyes will search for consistency when they face UNC. They played a strong first half against Texas before wilting in a 71-57 loss. Versus Syracuse, they trailed by 15 with about 10 minutes left in the game before a admirable comeback came up short during a 66-63 defeat.
"It's a great time to have a big game for us, especially on the road in a great atmosphere," Iowa Captain Aaron White said. "It will be a good test for us, obviously, a historic place to play, a successful team. It's going to be a good test for us. I'm excited."
Despite Paige's status as Tar Heel star, the team is pretty balanced with four players averaging double figures in points. Kennedy Meeks registers 13.8 a game while Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson chip in with 11.7 and 11.5, respectively. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound Meeks pulls down 9.7 rebounds an outing.
Butler upset UNC, 74-66, in the Battle for Atlantis tournament last week. The Tar Heels shot just 30.6 percent from the floor and turned it over 19 times.
North Carolina bounced back to capture fifth place at Atlantis with wins against UCLA and Florida, a pair of Top 25 teams at the time. The Hawkeyes won in their only trip to the Dean Smith Center, 98-97, in 1989 and own a 2-1 lead in the all-time series.
The Tar Heels are playing this season under a cloud of suspicion. A report released this fall shows years of academic fraud within the university.