Evansville has alternated wins and losses through its first six games, five of which have taken place in front of the hometown faithful. The Purple Aces dropped a 70-68 overtime decision to TCU on Saturday, and their signature win thus far was a season-opening, 80-77 extra-session verdict against the two- time national runner-up Butler Bulldogs. Following this clash with the Tar Heels, EU will take on North Carolina A&T, Tennessee Tech and Miami-Ohio before kicking off Missouri Valley Conference play against Southern Illinois on December 29.
North Carolina took care of Michigan State in a memorable season opener on its way to a 5-0 start. But since then, the Tar Heels have lost two of their last three -- first it was a shocking 90-80 upset by UNLV, and that was followed by a tough 73-72 setback this past Saturday at top-ranked Kentucky. With the ACC slate sure to offer a slew of potential pitfalls, coach Roy Williams hopes these early-season tests will benefit his team, which opens league action against Boston College on January 7, 2012, and won't play its next road tilt until visiting Florida State a week later.
North Carolina has won both previous meetings with Evansville, winning at home in 2008 and on the road last season.
Colt Ryan poured in 31 points, but even that effort wasn't enough to keep Evansville from falling for the third time this season, as it dropped a 70-68 overtime decision to visiting TCU last Saturday. Ryan, who shot just 7-of-17 from the floor but converted 14-of-16 free throws, also grabbed eight rebounds in logging 42 minutes on the court. He was the only UE player to reach double figures, and the Purple Aces bounced back from a terrible first half (.227 FG percentage) to shoot 52.4 percent after the break. Still, they made good on only 3-of-15 long-range tries (.200) and weren't able to overcome a 41-27 rebounding deficit. They did manage a commanding 29-13 edge in points from the foul line, and benefited from 22 turnovers by the Horned Frogs. Evansville is averaging 73.0 ppg on 45.1 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a 36.1 percent effort from beyond the arc. Defensively, the Aces are permitting 71.3 ppg, with foes hitting their total field goals 45.6 percent of the time, and their three-pointers at a 39.8 percent clip. The team is -6.8 in rebounding, but forces nearly 20 turnovers per outing.
Despite 14 points each from Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller, the Tar Heels dropped a hard-fought decision at Kentucky over the weekend. P.J. Hairston played with a sore wrist and turned in 11 points off the bench, and John Henson chipped in 10 points for North Carolina, which shot 41.7 percent from the field, knocking down 11 three-pointers along the way. The Wildcats connected on 44.4 percent of their total shots, including 56 percent in the second half. Barnes (17.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Henson (14.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.3 bpg) and Zeller (13.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) are all averaging double figures for the Heels to this point, and both Hairston (8.6 ppg, .486 three-point FG percentage) and Dexter Strickland (8.0 ppg, .581 FG percentage) have produced as well. Add Kendall Marshall's exploits as one of the nation's premier playmakers (10.0 apg), and coach Williams clearly has a team worthy of considerable praise. Zeller is just 13 point shy of reaching 1,000 for his career. Collectively, UNC is generating 82.2 ppg in hitting 48.4 percent of its total shots, which includes 44.4 percent of its three-point attempts. At the other end of the court, foes are netting 69.5 ppg on 39.1 percent field goal efficiency and only 30.6 percent from downtown.