Smith Center, Chapel Hill
7 p.m., FSS (Mike Hodgewood on play-by-play, Eddie Fogler on color).
Vermont entered the 2002-2003 season with high hopes. After all, the Catamounts returned four starters from the best team in the program's 102-year history.
Head coach Tom Brennan, in his 17th season, welcomed back two America East superstars. Junior T.J. Sorrentine, the returning conference Player of the Year and an honorable mention All-American, averaged nearly 20 points and four assists -- including a 45-point performance in which he hit 11 three-pointers. Taylor Coppenrath, a 6-9 sophomore, earned conference Rookie of the Year honors in 2001-2002.
But the Vermont season took a major hit before it even began. In a preseason practice, Sorrentine broke not just one -- but both -- wrists.
While Sorrentine's wrists mended, Coppenrath took the offensive lead, averaging 21.7 points on a squad that averages just 65.8 points per game.
The Catamounts season opened with wins over Eastern Michigan, Marist and Dartmouth, but since then they have lost five straight. After losing by narrow margins to Utah State, Hawaii and Drake, Vermont held a 10-point halftime lead at Providence earlier this month only to lose by double-digits.
The team hit rock bottom Tuesday night losing at Harvard, 71-64, without their star Coppenrath, who was sidelined with the flu.
"I told them before the game, 'Everyone looks at you guys as T.J. and Taylor and I know you're so much more than that,'" Brennan said postgame. "The reality is, we didn't play like we were more than that the whole game."
The loss of Sorrentine was difficult enough, but now Vermont must make due against Carolina without their other star.
"He's got a 103-degree fever, which has spread to his right lung," Brennan said. "My hope is to get him home and rested and well."
Other than Coppenrath, the team is shooting only 39.6 percent from the field and 31.6 percent on three-point attempts through eight games.
So who else makes up the 2002-2003 Catamounts?
Manning the middle is 6-8 widebody Matt Sheftic, who is second on the team in both points (10.1) and rebounds (7.1).
"He's so damn big and wide and he takes up so much space," Brennan said of the 260-pound junior.
Senior Grant Anderson, a 6-7 forward provides the all-around game with low-post scoring, rebounding and he's the team's top defender. Anderson posted a valiant 17 points and 11 rebounds in the loss to Harvard.
The top perimeter threat of late has been sophomore Mike Goia, shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc coming off the bench, including five three-pointers against Harvard.
Even with Coppenrath in the lineup, the struggling Catamounts are not expected to put up much of a fight against the fast and explosive Tar Heels, who are hungry for a win after back-to-back double-digit losses to Illinois and Kentucky.
But Matt Doherty refuses to look past Vermont.
"The guys have a bad taste in their mouth, they're looking forward to playing a basketball game," Doherty said. "This is a good Vermont team, and I don't care who we're playing after Vermont. We're going to try to beat Vermont."
And that should translate into a long night for Brennan and the Catamounts.
Background Location: Burlington, Vt. Enrollment: 7,400 Conference: America East Nickname: Catamounts Colors: Green & Gold Head Coach: Tom Brennan Record at UV: 199-243 Last year Record: 21-8 Conference record: 13-3, 1st Postseason: None Key personnel losses: Trevor Gaines (6-7 F) – 15.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg Probable Starting Lineup: Andre Anderson (6-1, G, Sr.) – 4.5 ppg David Hehn (6-5, G, So.) – 5.9 ppg Grant Anderson (6-7, F, Sr.) – 8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 apg *Taylor Coppenrath (6-9, F, So.) – 21.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg Matt Sheftic (6-8, C, Jr.) – 10.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg Key Reserves: Mike Goia (6-4, G, So.) – 6.1 ppg Germain Njila (6-4, G/F, So.) – 5.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg Scotty Jones (6-7, F, Jr.) – 5.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg
Head coach Tom Brennan
(Photos by Vermont Sports Info.)