Pepsi Center, Denver (Colo.)
9:50 p.m., CBS (Jim Nantz, Billy Packer, Bonnie Bernstein)
"When Air Force cuts, not just on backdoor cuts, but when they cut, it is at full speed. That is something that is hard for you to get used to. ... They do it at full speed. They slow the ball down, but when they slow the ball down they slow it down at full speed." -- Roy Williams
"I played in Denver two summers ago at a youth festival. [The altitude] took some time to get used to it, but I think it is a little overrated. A lot of people say altitude affects you, some people it does and some people it doesn't. It kind of affected me a little bit, but I was out of shape anyway, so that could have just been the case." -- Sean May
"We have our work cut out for us. North Carolina is one of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball. We must control our tempo and play our game. We've been good at doing that this season. North Carolina loves to fly the ball up the court. We're going there to win the game on Thursday. " -- Joe Scott
"I'm glad we are heading back to Denver. Who would not want to play close to home in a game like this? It will be fun to play against a team the caliber of North Carolina in front of our fans." -- Tim Keller
Background Location: USAF Academy, Colo. Enrollment: 4,000 Conference: Mountain West Nickname: Falcons Colors: Blue and Silver Head Coach: Joe Scott Record at AF: 51-62
Contrasting Styles: Head coach Joe Scott's Falcons run the Princeton offense, a slowed-down, disciplined method of undersized players utilizing long possessions and hard cuts. Air Force is averaging 60.2 points per game, while allowing 50.4 points. On the other end of the spectrum, the Tar Heels, who run an up-tempo offense, are averaging 83.1 points per game.
Sharpshooters: The AF starting five this season is shooting a combined 40 percent on three-point attempts, which doesn't include reserve guard Matt McCraw (9.3 mpg) who is shooting 48.5 percent.
Where's the Beef?: The Falcons use their offense to hide the fact that they are severely lacking in height. No one in the team's regular rotation of eight players is either taller than 6-8 or weighing more than 215 pounds. They have been outrebounded on average 28-22 this season.
Homecourt Advantage: Considering the Tar Heels' struggles on the road this season, you might as well considering this a road game. Denver is only a 50-mile drive on I-25 North from the Air Force Academy. Also, the Pepsi Center is where the MWC conference tournament was held last week. In addition, senior starter Joel Gerlach is a Denver native. And then there's the the thin air in the Mile High City.
Embarassing Loss: Air Force is fortunate the Tournament Committee overlooked an upset loss to Texas-Pan American on Feb. 16. The Falcons shot 30 percent from the field and lost 37-35 to a UTPA squad that is ranked No. 212 in the RPI.
Probable Starting Lineup: Tim Keller (6-3, 185, G, Jr.) – 11.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg Antoine Hood (6-5, 189, G, So.) – 10.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg A.J. Kuhle (6-3, 189, G, Sr.) – 8.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.1 apg Joel Gerlach (6-6, 205, F, Sr.) – 8.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg Nick Welch (6-8, 215, F, So.) – 11.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg Key Reserves: Jacob Burtschi (6-6, 205, F, Fr.) – 3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg Matt McCraw (6-2, 180, G, Fr.) – 3.2 ppg Dan Nwaelele (6-4, 200, F, Fr.) – 2.5 ppg
Gerlach ... Keller
Welch ... Hood
Scott ... McCraw
(Photos by the AP.)