"I can't see anybody having a stronger league than we have," UNC coach Roy Williams said during Friday's press conference. "We have a club that continues to improve with a couple of huge challenges in front of it."
UNC (9-2, 0-1 ACC) will try to even its record against ranked teams this season at 2-2. The Yellow Jackets (12-1, 0-0 ACC) are enjoying their fifth-straight week in the Top 25, but dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten after an 83-80 double-overtime loss at Georgia last Saturday.
"I don't think the Georgia game is playing into [the players'] thinking," Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "It's the first conference game, and you always want to get that first one. We'd like to get off to a good start. The fact that it's North Carolina, you realize the challenge is even greater."
Jackie Manuel hit 6-of-9 shots and finished with 15 points in Carolina's win over the Hurricanes. A career-high 38-percent shooter entering this year, Manuel is converting a robust 62.3-percent of his field goals this season.
No, he didn't spend the off-season with Mr. Miyagi. Manuel has simply sworn off long-range shooting – well OK, anything outside of layup-range – although he did nail his first 3-pointer of the season last Wedensday. The change, along with hard work and a positive attitude, has transformed him into a stellar contributor off the bench.
"Jackie was hungry for somebody to give him a role," Williams said. "His play in his first couple of seasons was not where he wanted it to be. That is hard for kids to accept these days. He was willing to make some changes to put him at another level."
Guard Melvin Scott is doing everything he has to in order to keep Manuel at sixth-man status. He has scored in double-figures and averaged 14.4 points per game in each of his last five games.
Rashad McCants is second in the ACC in scoring with 17.3 ppg, while Sean May is second in rebounding with 10.5 per game.
However there has been concern over the play of Raymond Felton of late. He still maintains a league-best 8.18 assists per game average, yet Williams said he wouldn't mind seeing Felton strengthen his 10.6-point scoring average.
"The ball probably needs to go into the basket a little more," Williams said.
But while scoring will make Felton the consummate point guard especially important to NBA scouts, there is plenty of time for that. Right now, his distribution of the ball and a solid grasp of every other aspect of the game is pleasing to his teammates.
"I'm running as fast as I can without the ball and he's beating me down court with the ball," Scott said. "Raymond is a really great athlete. He's taken a big step this year because last year he scored a lot, but this year it's like he has more assists than points. I really respect him for that. He's really bought into the team concept and he wants to win."
So who is the only person that can slow Felton down?
"Coach Williams, when he calls a play," Scott said.
Funny, the same was once said of Dean Smith about Michael Jordan.
"Raymond does have big time goals and big time dreams – I have those same goals for him," Williams said.
"He's been OK," Williams said. "We'll take a look at if for a week or so, and at that time we'll make a decision."