After a crushing defeat in the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge to the hands of top-ranked Indiana Tuesday night in Bloomington, North Carolina (5-2) will be heading back home for a few games.
With exams and the holiday break right around the corner, the Heels will sure be looking to cheer up their team and the fans Saturday evening in the Smith Center.
North Carolina will be welcoming a few familiar faces back to the Dean Dome, when UAB (4-3) comes into town.
Blazers head coach Jerod Haase and director of basketball operations Bobby Frasor, two guys that Tar Heel fans are extensively familiar with, are making their first returns to Chapel Hill wearing different colors.
Haase was Roy Williams' assistant at Chapel Hill for nine seasons and for 13 years combined at UNC and Kansas, and of course he played for Williams at Kansas.
Fraser, a fan favorite during his time in Chapel Hill, was of course a key part of the 2009 National Championship team, and Williams gave him his first collegiate job this past year working within the program in a non-coaching position.
While the Tar Heels aren't trying to let Haase and Fraser spoil their return home with an upset win, Williams will likely have plenty of good things to say about both of his proteges afterwards.
INSIDE THE BLAZERS
UAB has only faced UNC twice in school history, with the last meeting coming in the 2010 NIT, when UNC was able to hold off UAB 60-55 in the quarterfinal game in Birmingham.
UAB is coming off a 20-ppoint victory against Troy on Tuesday night (75-55) in its last outing.
Having a coach that knows Roy's system could give UAB a slight edge in some areas, as they could find some advantages in their game that could help UAB pull off the upset.
The Blazers have historically been a strong basketball program at different points, pulling off multiple NCAA Tournament upsets over the years, and they come to Chapel Hill with high expectations.
The Blazers come in having five players scoring over nine points a game, which sounds like a team that could provide issues for UNC on the defensive side.
Jordan Swing and Rod Rucker, both juniors, have been leading the team in scoring and rebounding, each averaging over 14.0 points per game and grabbing 6.0-8.0 rebounds an outing.
This is a team that won't come in and shy away from who they are because of a lack of experience, as UAB's starting lineup consists of one senior and four juniors.
From that standpoint, they're significantly more experienced than the Tar Heels.
UAB's statistics so far this year seem pretty even to what UNC has done this year, but doesn't that sound familiar (just look at last week's preview against Indiana).
Granted, this isn't the number one team in the nation, but this is a team that will give UNC a run for their money and could possibly upset the Tar Heels if they are not prepared.
UAB will bring out a team that will have some size, as all their starters are in the range of 6-2 and 6-10, which could help them against the Heels.
The Blazers have been averaging 76.6 points per game, so they will be able to put points on the board if UNC is not careful. Here are some other stats about their opponent:
UAB TEAM STATS
Points per Game: 76.6
Field Goal Percentage: 43.9
Rebounds per Game (Off/ Def.): 41.9 (12.4/29.4)
Assists per game: 17.4
Steals per game: 8.6
All statistics are very close to what UNC has been able to put up so far against their opponents.
GET MORE AGGRESSIVE
An amazing stat that has been a major change so far this year has been the three-point shooting and free throws.
Just by looking at the stats, you can tell that UNC is not attacking the basket as much as they use to and settling for outside shots.
They are averaging slightly above 20 shots per game behind the arc, which is much higher than years past. However, they are only converting on 37.3 percent of its shots. Furthermore, the Tar Heels have only shot 113 free throws so far this year and have only made 56.6 percent of them.
The guards haven't been getting to the free throw line, as they have only combined for 52 free throws for the year, showing that they are settling for outside shots (Reggie Bullock is 5-7, P.J. Hairston is 11-14, Marcus Paige is 1-1, Dexter Strickland is 13-24, and Leslie McDonald is 3-6).
In all of UNC's wins, they have been able to out-rebound their opponents, but in its two losses, UNC has been out-rebounded 88-71.
In fact, in their two losses so far this year, they have been down in the high 20's in both contests, were out-rebounded by the Bulldogs and Hoosiers, had 27 turnovers, and shot 8-for-30 from 3-point range.
All in which explains why the Heels were not able to defeat Butler and Indiana.
The Tar Heels need to come out in the next few games with some passion, aggression, and heart, showing the people of North Carolina what this team has to offer.
Coming off a loss like Indiana had to leave a bad taste in their mouth, so proving what this team has would be a big confidence booster for them.
Defense has been mentioned for this team since the start of the season, as they need to get back on defense as teams are being able to do what UNC is used to doing to their opponents in the past.
DECEMBER A TIME TO GROW, IMPROVE
After the loss Tuesday night, Williams made sure that his players would get a wakeup call in practice and we all know what he is capable of doing to his players when he is not happy.
Joel James posted on Twitter on Wednesday "That might have been the best 6:30am practice I'll ever have lol."
Hopefully the Heels have learned from their loss and are learning the way Williams wants to play.
As everyone says, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
The young Tar Heels have been through a learning curve but will need to show that they are growing and learning everything they can to improve as a team.
If so, the future could be bright for them.
UNC will be home most of the coming month, as they have just one road contest between now and when the Tar Heels open up Atlantic Coast Conference play Sunday, January 6 at Virginia in Charlottesville's John Paul Jones Arena.
Five straight Saturdays the Tar Heels will be at home, taking on the likes of UAB, East Tennessee State, East Carolina, McNeese State, and UNLV, with the lone road game at Texas on Wednesday, December 19.
It will be time to start working hard on and off the court for the Heels, as exams will be coming up shortly.
With a favorable schedule in front of the home folks, the Tar Heels have a good opportunity over the next month to pick up some cohesiveness on the court, as well as some key victories that can have a snowball effect in terms of momentum and confidence heading into January.
It's a relatively low-risk time where Williams can carefully adjust lineups and try things that he may not feel as comfortable doing once ACC play gets going.
He can experiment with certain groupings on the floor and figure out some things that might work for the team down the line.
Heading into a challenging stretch of ACC play including road games at Virginia, Florida State, and N.C. State in the first three weeks of league play, the Tar Heels really need to get going and find a way to string together some impressive wins against these non-conference December opponents, while even more importantly developing and growing as a unit.
It all starts Saturday against UAB, and some familiar faces on the Blazer end of the sidelines.