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UNC vs. Rutgers Preview

I'm not sure how Rutgers became a fixture on the UNC schedule. They've played every December going back to 2006. The streak has now outlasted the Rutgers coach it started with, as Fred Hill resigned last spring after an incident at a Scarlet Knights baseball game. (That's not quite as strange as it sounds. Hill's father has been the baseball coach at the school for over a quarter of a century.) What presumably hasn't is the large margins of victory typically involved in these games. UNC has beaten Rutgers by 39, 22, 22, and a comparatively small 14 points.

This year, Rutgers will be without Mike Rosario, their biggest scoring threat from the moment he set foot on campus, and big man Hamady Ndiaye. That leaves five – count 'em, five – scholarship players. The two who will be most familiar to UNC fans are Jonathan Mitchell and Dane Miller, who combined for 25 points last year. Both are wings, in the vague way that almost everyone for Rutgers appears to be a wing about 6'7" in height. None of them are great shooters. Miller in particular is horrible from behind the arc, but makes up for it with good rebounding. Mike Coburn runs everything from the point, does a decent job at feeding folks the ball, and doesn't turn the ball over as much as he used to.

The two freshman Mike Rice brought in for his first season are wing Mike Poole and big man Gilvydas Biruta; both have contributed significantly especially Biruta on the boards. But nothing about this team indicates it will be any better than last season. Except for the 16-point win over Miami back in November.

Now Miami itself is a hard team to figure out. The same team loses to Rutgers but beats the more impressive West Virginia out of the same conference. You can't really tell if Rutgers is better than advertised or the Hurricanes are just flaky. The Scarlet Knights beat Miami the way they've beaten most of their weak schedule, by generating a lot of turnovers, slowing the tempo down, and playing adequate enough offense to win. Turnovers, of course, remain a problem for the Heels, although they've improved. If nothing else, Rutgers shouldn't be doing quite so well at blocking shots (their fourth in the country in blocks per possession) against the taller Carolina team. UNC's faster game should also keep that particular weapon in check.

The bottom line is, UNC should win this game as easily as it has the past four. There's a little more risk involved, with a new coach and a team that can be unexpected, but it's nothing the Heels can't handle. Provided they can get from Chapel Hill to New York, that is.