NCAA Tournament Preview East Region - First Round  (15) Long Island University vs. (2) North Carolina

Friday, March 18 - Approximately 4:40 PM ET

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North Carolina, seeded second in the East Region, will take on the Blackbirds of Long Island University in a first round NCAA tournament game at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte on Friday afternoon. The Tar Heels won the ACC’s regular season title with a 14-2 conference record, but lost to West Region No. 1 seed Duke in the conference tournament championship game on Sunday, 75-58. The Blackbirds qualified for the tournament by defeating Robert Morris in the Northeast Conference Tournament title game, 85-82, in a riveting and mesmerizing overtime thriller on March 9.

Long Island brings a 27-5 overall record and a 13-game winning streak into the tournament this year, hoping to gain its first win in three appearances. Located in Brooklyn, New York, the campus has only 3,140 students (2,274 of whom are female), ranking 298 th of the 347 Division I schools that play men’s basketball. The Blackbirds hit a respectable 46.6 percent of their shots from the field this season, but commit an average of more than 15 turnovers per game, ranking 303rd out of 345 Division I teams. Sophomore big men Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere lead the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game apiece. Boyd averages 8.8 rebounds per game, and Olasewere 6.8 boards; the Blackbirds are third in the nation on the glass, averaging an astounding 38.2 rebounds per game as a team. Jim Ferry, in his 10th season on the bench at LIU, is coaching in his first NCAA tournament this year.

Coach Roy Williams’s Tar Heels enter this year’s tournament after missing the field last year and starting the 2010-11 season on a low note. After losing to Minnesota and Vanderbilt in an early season tournament and then bowing to Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the landscape looked pretty bleak for Carolina. Then came even more setbacks: to Texas on December 18, and Georgia Tech on January 16. (Carolina’s only other losses have been to its arch-rival Duke, which it lost to on February 9, and in the conference tournament final on Sunday.) A 2010 season that took a defending national champion all the way down to the NIT was in the process of being repeated. When Carolina got drubbed by a bad Georgia Tech team in January, nothing less than pure panic infused the fan base in Chapel Hill. Now, however, UNC is a number two seed and a conference champion. How did this happen?

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In a word, wisdom.

Carolina’s young roster has shown a lot of growth this season, maturing through adversity. Freshman Harrison Barnes, a pre-season first-team all-American selection, has developed into a strong presence in the paint, averaging 15 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. Freshman Kendall Marshall took over point guard duties at the beginning of February after the sudden departure of Larry Drew II, and has developed into an effective floor leader for the Tar Heels, dishing out 5.8 assists per game, 20th in the country. Marshall’s replacement of Drew is the single biggest reason Carolina turned around its season. Marshall, owns a 2.4-1 assist-turnover ratio to rank 35th in the nation. Tyler Zeller is second on the team in scoring, with 14.5 points and more than seven rebounds per game. Carolina leads the nation in rebounding, with 39.3 boards per contest.

The Tar Heels have 41 NCAA tournament appearances as a team, and own a 102-39 record in tournament games. This is their seventh appearance under Williams, now in his ninth season; they have won two national championships in that time, in 2005 against Illinois, and most recently two years ago against Michigan State. Carolina also won the title in 1957, 1982, and 1993.

We’ll see if this game is the start of a journey that leads a proud program to championship number six.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer




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