A little less than a month ago, the Tar Heel faithful was looking at its young team with desperation and panic.
Miami came to Chapel Hill for its first true test in the ACC looking to make a statement, and its 68-59 victory over the Tar Heels the night of January 10 in the Smith Center showed they're for real.
On Saturday, North Carolina (16-6, 6-3) returns the favor with a trip Coral Gables, where the Tar Heels will take on No. 8 Miami (18-3, 9-0) looking to make a statement of its own. Tip off will be at 2:00pm eastern time, with ESPN televising the game.
The picture is looking completely different than the first matchup, with North Carolina looking to get a statement win on its resume, while the Hurricanes are looking to stay perfect in the ACC, pushing their winning streak to 11 games in a row.
Miami has been one of the surprising teams not only in the ACC but the nation, as the Hurricanes are climbing the rankings each and every week.
"We have a senior-laden team, and those guys are very hungry," coach Jim Larranaga said. "They're having fun playing together."
In the past, Miami was really always considered the hunter, while North Carolina was the hunted.
Now the tables have flipped for both programs, as Larranaga has his experienced team on the verge of doing something that hasn't been done in almost five years in the ACC---starting 10-0 in league play (Duke was last to do it).
RECAP OF FIRST MATCHUP
North Carolina had just come off a loss to Virginia and was looking to get back into the picture with a home victory against the Hurricanes and at that point, UNC was undefeated in the Dean Dome.
Miami was without Reggie Johnson at the time but that didn't stop the big men for Miami from dominating both on the inside and outside.
Kenny Kadji absolutely killed the Tar Heels at critical times with his inside presence and hitting two three-pointers in the game.
Kadji and Julian Gamble combined for 32 points, 15 rebounds, and seven blocks.
The game was close throughout but in the end, the Tar Heels lack of perimeter defense combined with the lack of offense (they shot 33 percent in the second half) proved to be costly as Miami pulled away for the win.
The leading scorers for the game were James Michael McAdoo, who had 14 points, and Reggie Bullock, who had 11 points for the Tar Heels.
Now North Carolina will look to switch roles when they head down south.
STATEMENT WIN FOR THE TAR HEELS?
North Carolina is coming off of a victory over Wake Forest Tuesday night, in which the Tar Heels dominated in all facets of the game and winning 87-62.
McAdoo commented after the game that the team is improving.
"When we show up ready to play, we're a great team. We've had ups and downs. I feel like the highs are getting higher and our lows aren't coming as often, which is good," McAdoo replied.
Everyone is hoping that this is true.
The true test that will prove McAdoo right will come on Saturday though.
Miami is coming off two convincing wins in the ACC, with the blasting of Boston College and a tip-in win over NC State last weekend in Raleigh.
There is no doubt where the strong points are for the Hurricanes, as Larranaga has three big men that can dominate the paint and defend really well down low.
Even though Johnson's numbers have decreased since the beginning of the year, he has been one of the leaders throughout the season for this team.
Johnson is averaging 9.8 points per game, while being one of the top rebounders in the ACC, grabbing 9.1 boards per game.
But the rotation that the Hurricanes have with Johnson (6-10, 292lbs), Gamble (6-10, 250lbs), and Kadji (6-11, 242lbs) will certainly pose a problem for the Tar Heels once again.
McAdoo will get most of the attention but the supporting cast of Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson, and Joel James will have to step up offensively and defensively if the Tar Heels want to come away with a win.
Shane Larkin, a sophomore guard, has been a huge lift for the Hurricanes.
Larkin, Miami's floor general, is averaging 12.8 points per game, while handing out 4.1 assists a game (2 to 1 turnover ratio) and shooting 47 percent from the floor.
Marcus Paige has to continue his improving play the past few games for the Tar Heels, as Paige has been knocking down critical shots and playing well overall for Roy Williams.
Dexter Strickland will certainly look at this game as a redemption game.
Strickland had one of his worst games in his career against Wake Forest, putting up all zeros in the box score while playing 26 minutes.
Strickland will be a key both offensively and defensively, as he will defend multiple Hurricane guards while trying to show that he is back on his game offensively.
Even though this might be the same team, person wise, that defeated the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, this is certainly a team that has grown with confidence and is a bigger threat than the first time UNC matched up with them.
"(Playing MIami is) not a lot different except they're better. They're better now than when we played them and I hope were a lot better than when we played them the last time," Williams said.
"They have five guys averaging from 9.6 (points per game) on up, so basically the way I see is that they have five guys averaging double figures."
"It's a team that has continued to improve, and they enjoy playing together. You watch them play and they really look like five guys playing as one and I think that's always the biggest secret," Williams added.
Miami is averaging 69.6 points per game, grabbing 36.7 rebounds, and making almost seven three pointers per game.
All stats that seem reasonable in its own way, but the only difference is that the confidence of this team is off the charts.
Larranaga commented about it after his team pulled out its one point victory in Raleigh last week.
"The more you win, the more you find ways to win because your team is persevering," Larranaga said. "They realize they still have a chance."
UNC's defense has to improve from the first matchup, while shots from behind the arc will have to fall.
Bullock and P.J. Hairston (who returned last week after a concussion and flu-like symptoms) will be depended on knocking down some outside shots for the Tar Heels to help out with the Hurricanes inside presence.
If the shots don't fall like they did against the Hurricanes the last time, the Tar Heels will struggle.
Furthermore, with a matchup against Duke coming up next week and tough games to follow against Virginia, Georgia Tech, and N.C. State, the road to the NCAA Tournament will become a lot harder for a team that needs some resume building wins.