In what certainly appears to be a major mismatch, the second- seeded North Carolina Tar Heels take on the 15th-seeded Long Island Blackbirds tonight in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Awaiting the winner of this tilt is a third-round clash with either seventh- seeded Washington or 10th-seeded Georgia on Sunday.
Long Island is in search of its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, as the program has been bounced out of the event right away in its previous three appearances. The Blackbirds haven't taken part in the "Big Dance" since 1997, and while they are huge underdogs tonight, they do enter with the nation's longest active winning streak at 13 games. Long Island, which is 27-5 overall, defeated Robert Morris in overtime to win the Northeast Conference Tournament championship and earn the league's automatic berth to this event.
While Long Island has no NCAA Tournament success to speak of, the case is quite different for the storied North Carolina program. The Tar Heels have five national titles to their credit, the most recent of which came in 2009, and they are 102-39 all-time in the event. Roy Williams' team is 26-7 overall and won the ACC regular season title. Unfortunately for the Heels, they were crushed by Duke in the ACC Tournament title tilt, halting a nine-game win streak.
North Carolina and Long Island have never met on the hardwood.
Jamal Olasewere picked the perfect time to play the game of his life, as the Long Island standout poured in 31 points and ripped down 11 rebounds in the NEC title game against Robert Morris. Through 32 outings, Olasewere is netting 12.9 ppg to go along with 6.8 rpg, numbers that are certainly a far cry from the staggering figures that he posted against the Colonials. Julian Boyd is also scoring 12.9 ppg for the Blackbirds, and he is tops on the boards with 8.8 rpg. Boyd is a 52.4 percent shooter from the field, but his free throw shooting is a bit sketchy. David Hicks is another player worth mentioning for Long Island, which is registering 82.6 ppg while allowing 73.9 ppg. Hicks provides 11.0 ppg, while Kyle Johnson rounds out a group of double-digit scorers with 10.8 ppg.
Harrison Barnes came to North Carolina as one of the most highly-regarded freshmen in the nation, and the rookie has progressively gotten better and more assertive as this season has advanced. Barnes is now the top scorer on the roster with his 15.0 ppg, and the development of his jump shot has enabled the standout forward to take his game to the next level. Barnes is just part of one of college basketball's best frontcourts, as Tyler Zeller and John Henson are standout performers as well. Zeller leads the team with 14.5 ppg and 7.1 rpg, and he is shooting 53.8 percent from the floor. As for Henson, who has blocked 103 shots, he provides 11.4 ppg and 10.1 rpg. The Tar Heels are posting 76.7 ppg while limiting opponents to 67.8 ppg on 40.4 percent field goal efficiency. Another player to watch is Kendall Marshall, who has been a big-time contributor since taking over as the club's starting point guard.
There is no reason to think that Long Island will score an upset in this game. The big and talented front line of UNC will be far too much for the Blackbirds to handle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Carolina 94, Long Island 70