North Carolina (6-2) will be back in action on Saturday when it hosts East Tennessee State (2-4). UNC will be taking a break from school this weekend and try to relieve the stress of exams, which started December 7, with a non-conference game.
After coming off a decisive victory over UAB last week, the Tar Heels will look for the same outcome as they did a week ago. Putting on a clinic offensively, especially without Marcus Paige, really was a confidence boost for the young team last week against the Blazers.
With exams starting, UNC's schedule has been a little different, without quite as much practice time as back in October and November. The extra time off has allowed some key players to get some rest and heal before UNC rounds up its non-conference schedule and head into ACC play.
Tip-off against E. Tennessee St will begin at 7:30 pm eastern time. UNC leads the all-time series between the two schools 5-0, with the last meeting coming almost 25 years ago (Feb. 18, 1987).
Saturday's game will be the only Tar Heel game not televised in its 2012-2013 schedule but can be viewed online with ESPN3.
BREAKING DOWN ETSU
ETSU will be coming into this game, looking to just stay in the game with UNC.
East Tennessee St. is a huge under-dog on paper heading into the matchup in the Dean Dome, as they look highly out matched statistically. ETSU will be without two seniors, as Marcus Dubose (15.5 ppg) and
Sheldon Cooley (9.5 ppg) were suspended earlier in the season.
Coach Murray Bartow also has been waiting for senior Jarvis Jones and freshman point guard, Petey McClain, to come back and join the Buccaneer squad. McClain missed the game against James Madison due to an injury and the team isn't quite sure when McClain will return.
Without McClain though, ETSU shot 28.8 percent and committed 18 turnovers in Wednesday's 70-45 loss at James Madison, showing that the Buccaneers' will have to have someone step up at point guard.
Head coach Roy Williams will more than likely take a page out of JMU's book and put a full-court press on the guards, trying to create some turnovers for a team that lacks experience.
With three starters on ETSU missing in action, it will be hard for an upset to occur and it will be a huge disadvantage for the Buccaneers.
One weapon that the Buccaneers will have on the court Saturday evening is redshirt freshman Lester Wilson, who is averaging 19.7 ppg and 6.2 rebounds per outing so far.
The Tar Heels will look to defend Wilson on the perimeter, as no other player expected to log heavy minutes for ETSU in this contest scores more than seven points per game.
Here is an early look at the statistics so far this year for East Tennessee State:
Points per Game: 60.0
Field Goal % (3-pt %): 39.3% (34.2%)
RPG (Off./Def.): 33.8 (12.7/21.2)
Assists per game: 11.7
Turnovers per game: 13.0
Paige will look to return against ETSU after missing the game against UAB with a jammed shoulder.
X-rays that were taken on Monday came out negative and he fully participated in practice on Friday.
Paige is expected to play Saturday, but Dexter Strickland might see some more time at the point anyway based on his play last week.
Strickland played well in Paige's absence last week against UAB, scoring 11 points and having a career high in assists with nine.
James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson, Joel James, and Desmond Hubert will look to solidify their presence in the paint against the Buccaneers, as the three starting forwards for ETSU are 6-4, 6-7, and 6-7.
With the potential lineup and injuries for ETSU, Coach Williams might go back to the lineup he usually likes to use; going big and working the ball down low as UNC will want to take advantage of its big size.
As mentioned in an earlier article on TarHeelIllustrated.com, Johnson could see significant playing time, allowing him to gain experience and work on his defensive presence while continuing to score at a high rate on the offensive side (9.1 ppg in 14 minutes of play).
P.J. Hairston commented earlier in the week about Johnson's excellent touch around the rim.
"He has the softest touch around the rim, it's crazy,'' Hairston said. "Some shots, we think he's going to miss, and it goes straight in. We call him 'Easy B' - Easy Bucket."
However, anyone that has watched the first eight games for UNC knows that Williams is still not quite sure on the fifth starting spot next to McAdoo and is still up for grabs.
The four-guard line-up that we have seen more often this year might come into play at some point, which will allow the team to build chemistry. ETSU might try to spread the floor a little more with such a small line-up; a line-up that UNC has struggled with this year.
However, this will be a tune-up game for UNC on the defensive end. It will give the Tar Heels a chance to progress more with its transition and low post defense. Williams wasn't happy the last time around with his team's effort on the defensive side.
"Offensively we did some nice things," Williams said about his teams play against UAB.
"We have guys who can shoot the ball. Defensively we weren't very good, but we've got to continue to work on it."
The next two opponents will be key games in allowing the young Tar Heels to build more chemistry with each other, along with working on their defensive presence.
With this game Saturday against ETSU and next week against East Carolina, it should provide them experience before they travel to Texas to face the Longhorns December 19 in Austin.
Saturday could be a game that could give the freshman some more playing time, as Johnson, James, Paige, and J.P. Tokoto will all look to take advantage of the minutes they get and make an impact against the Bucs.
This Saturday is also a chance for fans to give back to the community, as Orange County Toys for Tots campaign will be trying to provide over 5,000 toys for children who would go without gifts this holiday season.
It's a good opportunity for fans to see the Tar Heels in action while also being able to give back to the surrounding community for a great cause.