It’s not often that North Carolina faces an opponent from nearby Durham in November, but that doesn’t mean the sixth-ranked Tar Heels will be worried about the outcome of Wednesday’s game in the 2K Sports Classic.
That’s because the visiting team at the Dean Smith Center will be lowly North Carolina Central, which will provide coach Roy Williams’ team with an opportunity to overcome its sloppy start as the programs meet for the first time.
The Tar Heels’ local rivalry with Durham-based Duke is one of the most storied in college basketball, but they’ve never faced the Eagles, who also reside a few miles away but are in just their third season as a Division I program.
While North Carolina Central went 4-27 as an independent in 2008-09, North Carolina (1-0) is trying to defend its fifth national championship, but the team showed it needs plenty of work during Monday’s season-opening 88-72 win over Florida International.
With Williams trying to replace stars Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, there isn’t much experience on the roster, which could have been a factor in the 26 turnovers committed by the Tar Heels.
“For the most part, I thought we were active. We were trying hard,” Williams said. “We just weren’t very sharp. But it’s what you should expect this time of year.”
North Carolina did see some positive signs, with lone returning starter Deon Thompson totaling 20 points and 10 rebounds and sophomore forward Ed Davis also contributing a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) in his third career start.
The frontcourt is considered the club’s biggest strength, with 6-foot-10 freshmen twins David and Travis Wear and 7-foot sophomore Tyler Zeller also seeing minutes on Monday, but Thompson said it could take a while to develop chemistry.
“Last year’s guys, I’ve been with them ever since I’ve been here,” Thompson said. “We all knew each other and knew each other’s tendencies: where guys are going to go, how guys like to get shots and things like that. Now you just have no clue where that person is going to go, what he’s thinking in his mind or if he even knows the play. It’s definitely a big difference, but it’s also fun and exciting to experience something new.”
North Carolina Central opens its season hoping for some newfound success under first-year coach LeVelle Moton, a former player who ranks third on the school’s all-time scoring list. The program is playing its last season as an independent before joining the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for 2010-11.
The Eagles will have to move on without four of their top five scorers, including Jamar Briscoe, who led the team with 17.8 points per game last season before transferring to Charlotte. They could look for leadership from junior guard Vincent Davis, who averaged 11.2 points.
North Carolina Central has faced three ranked teams as a Division I school, losing by an average of more than 40 points at Duke, Wake Forest and Michigan.