Previewing FIU

The defending national champion Tar Heels open the 2009-10 season with many new faces and several key question marks. Their first opponent is Isiah Thomas' Golden Panthers of Florida International. Tip-off Monday at the Smith Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be televised by ESPNU.

North Carolina (0-0) vs. Florida International (0-0)
Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
7:00, ESPNU


"We've been waiting for this game for a while. We've got to stay focused and execute because we are the underdogs and we're much smaller." -- FIU's Marvin Roberts

"Cinderella doesn't have to come in March. She can come in November." -- FIU coach Isiah Thomas

"Isiah wasn't the coach there last year. Doesn't do us any good to look at the tape from any games that they had last year." -- UNC coach Roy Williams


* Isiah Thomas: Monday marks the college debut of Isiah Thomas, which is expected to bring additional national media attention to Chapel Hill. Thomas, an NBA Hall-of-Famer, is looking to resurrect his image, which has taken many hits after well publicized failures as CBA owner, NBA head coach and NBA GM. Thomas does have a history with UNC from his college days as an All-American at Indiana. Thomas' Hoosiers beat UNC in the 1981 national championship game, with Roy Williams on the Tar Heel bench as an assistant coach.

* New Faces, Small Lineup: FIU returns just one starter (Nikola Gacesa) from last year's 13-20 squad and its leading passer from a year ago (Nick Taylor) is sidelined tonight with a foot injury. Thus, the Golden Panthers are expected to start three junior college transfers, headlined by Marvin Roberts, who led the NJCAA in scoring last season while at Redlands (Okla.) Community College. Gacesa, who stands 6-foot-9, will start at center, while Roberts and senior Marlon Bright -- both 6-5 -- are expected to be the starting forwards. Beyond that, FIU has one reserve over 6-7.

* Rough Start: The Golden Panthers lost to an NAIA school last Wednesday in their lone exhibition contest. Northwood University, coached by Rollie Massimino (of Villanova '85 title fame) defeated FIU, 71-61. Thomas' team shot 35 percent from the field, which he referred to postgame as "we didn't shoot the ball exceptionally well." FIU got 15 points apiece from Phil Gary and Marvin Roberts.

Projected Starters:
4 Phil Gary (5-11, 190, Jr.) - Chicago (Ill.) Malcolm X CC
2 Stephon Weaver (6-3, 195, Jr.) – Forrest City (Ark.) Connor State CC
11 Marvin Roberts (6-5, 210, Jr.) – Brooklyn (N.Y.) Redlands CC
34 Marlon Bright (6-5, 235, Sr.) – 3.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg
15 Nikola Gacesa (6-9, 239, Sr.) – 10.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Top Reserves:
3 Tremayne Russell (6-1, 180, Jr.) – 8.0 ppg, 1.7 apg
21 Cedric Essola (6-9, 215, Sr.) – 4.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg

Location: Miami, Fla.
Enrollment: 38,000
Conference: Sun Belt
Nickname: Golden Panthers
Colors: Blue & Gold
Head Coach: Isiah Thomas
Record at FIU: 0-0

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