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Texas hoops preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

Texas will be tested by a ranked opponent for the first time on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill on ESPN2.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's note: Check out Peter's keys to UNC and Michigan State here.

It has been quite a week in Texas athletics.  Complete with Nick Saban drama, the retirement/resignation of Mack Brown, and the speculation on new football coaches, it's enough to make your head spin. It would appear that Texas basketball has been placed on the back-burner for a short period of time while Texas football gets fixed.

Minutes after Mack Brown retired on Saturday night, ESPN was doing live cut-ins with reporter Shelley Smith at the Frank Erwin Center. You could see a basketball game was being played in the background, but that obviously wasn't important. In fact, most Longhorns tuned away from the LHN during the Texas State game and switched over to ESPN where the speculation was beginning about the future of Texas football. What they missed was an outstanding performance by the Longhorns men's basketball team, who drubbed the Texas State Bobcats by 32 points. It was a monstrous game for Cameron Ridley and the largest victory margin for the Longhorns since 2011.

Wednesday starts a daunting two game stretch for the Longhorns. Texas will play their first ranked opponent of the year on the road before coming home to play top ranked Michigan State on Saturday. If the Longhorns can pull away with one win in this stretch, it'll turn some heads. The meteoric improvement of the 2013 Longhorns has gone largely unnoticed, but that can change against Carolina.

What We Know About UNC

It has been a strange year for Carolina basketball fans. UNC has performed better against ranked opponents than they have against middle of the pack teams, which is a good sign for the Longhorns. The Tar Heels have toppled three top-five opponents: Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky, but have losses at home against Belmont and on the road against UAB. Part of the inconsistency is due to age. UNC's top two scorers are underclassmen and the entire starting five only has one upperclassman, junior James Michael McAdoo. Wednesday will be a senior-less night inside the Dean Dome.

The Tar Heels are having similar problems with the NCAA that haunted Myck Kabongo last season. Two Tar Heel starters are out with unresolved issues and their problems won't be ending anytime soon. That will put more pressure on younger players like Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, and Kennedy Meeks. Paige is UNC's biggest scoring threat. He is shooting the ball very well and has scored 25+ points in three games this season. His most impressive showing was the 32 points that he dropped on Louisville earlier this season. Saturday night against Kentucky was another impressive game for Paige, who scored 23 points and went 10-10 from the stripe.  His chemistry with the team's second leading scorer, sophomore Brice Johnson, is lethal and leads to plays like this:

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UNC's most seasoned veteran, junior James Michael McAdoo, has been a relatively big disappointment this year. McAdoo was expected to be the team's leading scorer but struggled shooting in the early part of the season. He had a big game against Kentucky last weekend scoring twenty points, second only behind Paige. Momentum going into Wednesday night's contest could be on his side.

Projected Starters

G- Marcus Paige

G- Nate Britt

F- Brice Johnson

F- J.P. Tokoto

F- James Michael McAdoo

Interesting Tidbits

Per UNC's website:

Texas leads the all-time series against Carolina, 5-3.  The teams are meeting for the fifth season in a row, with the Longhorns winning three of the first four matchups.  Texas has won four of the last five meetings in the series overall (since Dec. 30, 1995).

Williams is 7-5 against Texas as a head coach, including a 6-1 mark at Kansas and a 1-4 record while at UNC. He is 5-5 against Texas teams coached by Rick Barnes, winning four of five meetings while at Kansas and going 1-4 against Barnes' Longhorns at UNC.

  • The guys over at UNC's "Tar Heel Blog" have an interesting take on Mack Brown's legacy in Chapel Hill. Worth a read.
  • As a half Texan-half North Carolinian, I have a lot of pride riding on this game.  I am going to be in Chapel Hill tomorrow night with some friends from high school who despise UNC. We are making the drive up from Charlotte to pull on the Longhorns.  I have passed out burnt orange clothing and will be distributing drinks beforehand. If you are going to the game tomorrow night, let us know. A win could push Texas into the Top 25.
  • Face value of a lower level ticket in the Dean Dome is $135+. That kind of money could get you into 135 Texas basketball home games.
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Time: 6 p.m. CST