Previewing NC State

After completing the non-conference slate with an undefeated record, the Tar Heels dive head first into ACC play. On Saturday, an NC State squad that proved a difficult matchup a year ago comes to the Smith Center. Tip-off is set for noon on ESPN.

North Carolina (16-0) vs. NC State (11-3)
Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
Noon, ESPN

Quotables

"[UNC] can make you concerned in different areas. They have the ability to really run the floor and they can really run 1-through-5 (positions). What makes them so tough is they just play the game. They push the ball up the floor, then they're so smart that they just read situations; they just play where you really don't have to call a set. They just read each other and it's always difficult to guard a team like that because you prepare for sets. When you have guys that just know how to play and have a feel, it's really hard to prepare." – NCSU head coach Sidney Lowe

"The [Tar Heels] play hard all the time. You have to come in mentally and physically ready to execute and play a tough game. You can't have a weak heart. As soon as you step off the bus, the fans are going to be on you. In order to do anything remotely successful over there, you really have to be focused and really concentrate." – NCSU sophomore forward Brandon Costner

"I think [NC State] is pretty good. Costner, [Ben] McCauley and [J.J.] Hickson – they all do a lot of different things. It's going to be a challenge for us." – Tyler Hansbrough

PREGAME NOTES


Hickson
Season to Date: N.C. State enters Saturday's contest with an 11-3 record, although the prevailing mood around the Triangle region would suggest that the Wolfpack are sitting at 3-11. Head coach Sidney Lowe's squad was picked to finish third in the preseason ACC Media Poll, but they have not lived up to that billing with embarrassing losses to New Orleans and East Carolina and narrow victories over Rider and Western Carolina. Despite an 81-58 debacle against Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Pack posted solid wins against Villanova, Davidson and Seton Hall and has won seven straight games.

Defensive Prowess: N.C. State has proven to be one of the top defensive teams in the ACC this season. The Pack is allowing opponents only 61.3 points per game (3rd ACC) and .377 percent from the field (3rd ACC) this season (32.6 percent from 3-point range). During its current winning streak, N.C. State has held its opponents to 56.9 points per outing and .292 shooting from the field (155-530).

Long-Range Misery: N.C State ranks 11th in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage at 30 percent (64-213). Senior wing Gavin Grant leads the team with a 34.2 percentage from downtown, connecting on 13 of his 38 attempts. Costner is right behind the veteran with a 33.9 percentage (19-of-56). Conversely, The Wolfpack has connected on 54 percent of its 2-point shots (244-452).

Freshman Phenom:Center J.J. Hickson leads all conference freshmen in scoring (16.5) and ranks second in rebounding (7.7). The Marietta, Ga. native also leads the ACC in field goal percentage (.702). Hickson has provided the two best statistical performances of the season – a combined 64 points on 22-of-23 shooting (20-of-26 from the free-throw line) and 20 rebounds in wins over William & Mary and Western Carolina.

Injury Update: Sidney Lowe labeled junior guard Courtney Fells (ankle sprain) and sophomore Dennis Horner (high ankle sprain) as "day-to-day" during his Friday press conference. Fells is averaging 8.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, while Horner is contributing 3.6 points. The Wolfpack has already lost sophomore point guard Farnold Degand for the season due to an ACL tear.

Last Meeting: The Tar Heels beat N.C. State, 89-80, on March 11, 2007, in Tampa, Fla. to win its 16th ACC Tournament title. As a team, UNC hit 19-of-20 free throw attempts in the second half. ACC Tournament MVP Brandan Wright (7-of-11 field goal shooting) and fellow freshman Wayne Ellington each scored 16 points and Hansbrough tied an ACC Tournament record by going 11-for-11 at the free throw line.

Series History:North Carolina leads the all-time series with N.C. State, 136-75. The Tar Heels won two of the three meetings last season, and have won eight of the last nine meetings in the series, sweeping the season series from the Wolfpack in 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06.

Projected Starters:
10 Javier Gonzalez (6-0, 176, Fr.) – 1.9 ppg, 0.9 apg
 4 Courtney Fells (6-5, 205, Jr.) - 8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
11 Gavin Grant (6-8, 208, Sr.) – 13.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg
33 Brandon Costner (6-9, 238, So.) - 10.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg
 1 JJ Hickson (6-9, 242, Fr.) – 16.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg

Key Reserves:
34 Ben McCauley (6-10, 238, Jr.) – 5.9 ppg, 4.3 reb
31 Dennis Horner (6-8, 220, So.) – 3.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg
13 Marques Johnson (6-5, 205, So.) – 1.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg

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