Washington (Ind.) native Tyler Zeller has his 'homecoming' game as a North Carolina basketball player Wednesday night, as North Carolina (5-3) takes on Evansville's Purple Aces in Roberts Stadium.
Evansville, located approximately an hour from Zeller's hometown of Washington (Ind.), will be full of his family members and friends as he looks to continue his solid play of late.
"He's terrific," said Evansville head coach Marty Simmons of Zeller to the Evansville Courier and Press. "He runs the floor so well. He's got a tremendous touch. He scores inside and out and gets to the free throw line, which all great big players and scorers do. And he rebounds."
For Zeller and the rest of the Tar Heels, it's their second 'true' road game of the young season and they're looking to take on the challenge on going in someone else's building and getting a victory.
The Aces (3-3) have been an up-and-down team so far this year, but they're certainly not to be taken lightly.
While they're averaging just 68.3 points per game (ranked 211th in the country) and are only getting 32.3 rebounds per game (ranked 294th nationally), they showed in late November that they can step it up against a marquee opponent, as they knocked off defending NCAA finalist Butler on the road, 71-68---ending Butler's 17-game home winning streak.
After more than a week off from game action after the Butler upset, Evansville returned to the court this past Sunday and suffered a one-point loss on the road at Air Force.
The Air Force loss completed a four-game road streak for the Purple Aces---they haven't played at home since beating UT-San Antonio 77-73 back on November 17.
The Butler upset was Evansville's only win during its four-game road trip, as they lost 67-54 at Indiana, 82-70 at Middle Tennessee, and then at Air Force.
Evansville's best player so far this season as proven to be sophomore Colt Ryan, who comes into the UNC game averaging 16.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Last year's Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Rookie of the Year, the 6-5, 210-pound Ryan is a 56.3 percent three-point shooter that has the versatility to take the ball inside as well. He could prove to be Carolina's biggest defensive challenge Wednesday night.
Evansville's other double-digit scorer is 6-6 junior Kenneth Harris at 13.2 points per game. He's the team's leading rebounder (6.5) as well.
Two other Evansville starters---junior combo Denver Holmes and senior point guard Kavon Lacey---have solid numbers so far this season.
Holmes, who is averaging 6.7 points and three rebounds per game, has a very impressive 25-9 assists-to-turnovers ratio, while Lacey has a 21-11 assists-to-turnovers ratio to go along with his 4.2 points per game.
While Evansville isn't going to beat you running up and down the floor and playing a high-scoring game, they're dangerous from Carolina's perspective if they can slow them down and force them to play a more deliberate, half-court style instead of pushing the ball quickly.
UNC has to force tempo against this team and use its depth to wear down an Evansville squad that has reasonable depth itself. The Purple Aces have eight players averaging at least 13 minutes per game, and a whopping 11 players getting at least eight minutes an outing.
Evansville will definitely try to keep this a half-court game and try to beat the Tar Heels with good shooting, minimal turnovers, and quality perimeter defense.
With players like senior starting center Pieter van Tongeren (6-10) and backup forwards Matt Peeler (6-8) and Clint Hopf (6-8), Evansville has a little bit of height, but this should be an area where Carolina can look to dominate this opponent.
Evansville's best bet for pulling the upset will be playing a perimeter-based game, so UNC really needs to exploit its talent in the low post and make it their bread and butter---as they do most always when they take the floor.
It should be a rocking, sellout crowd on Evansville's campus Wednesday night---the perfect atmosphere for Carolina to get accustomed to playing together and cohesively in a hostile environment before the grind of the ACC regular season schedule.
UNC should feel good about its chances of going into this environment and getting another win, but it's certainly not to be taken for granted. They have to slow down Ryan and keep Evansville's momentum at a minimum in order to come back to Chapel Hill victorious.