Television: ESPN2, maybe WatchESPN
Internet Radio: CurmudgeonPhonic
Live Stats: Link to be named later.
Last year, Tennessee took a very good North Carolina team behind the Tompson-Boling Arena woodshed to the tune of a 102-57 beatdown. The game undoubtedly left a mark with the Lady Tarheels, and there is every reason to expect them to see tonight as an opportunity to atone for that loss. Add in the North Carolina home crowd, and this is an eminently losable game for the Lady Vols if they don't play well for 40 minutes.
Fortunately for Tennessee, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt graduated at the end of last year. She led the 'Heels with 15.8 points per game, nearly 5 assists per game, 30 minutes per game, and nearly 3 steals per game. UNC also had tremendous production from Krista Gross and Waltiea Rolle, and the three combined to be the heart and soul of last year's team. Replacing that much senior production is always a challenge, and it may benefit Tennessee to play Carolina this early in the season, while the team is still figuring out their new chemistry. The early nominees for clubhouse leaders are the two returning starters: sophomore forward Xylina McDaniels and junior shooting guard Brittany Roundtree. These two will likely be the names to watch early to see how UNC fares.
Continuing the look at the Lady Heels, the point guard duties have been picked up by Latifah Coleman, a 5'-9" redshirt sophomore who tallied 5 assists to 2 turnovers and 2 points in 21 minutes against Air Force in the season opener. (UNC won that opener in an unsurprising 87-26 romp; there's not a whole lot to learn there.) Aside from 6'-6" center Rolle, the Heels are somewhat smaller, with no other players exceeding 6'-2" and a general trend toward three guard lineups. However, with the new rules against hand checks and most other defensive physical contact, the smaller and quicker lineup may be precisely the kind of team that is well built to flourish. (UNC also has a 13-deep roster, which is great insurance against overactive officials.)
But for the smaller size, North Carolina prefers penetration over three point shots. Against Air Force, they made only 2 of 16 attempts from three, but netted 32 of 56 shots from within the perimeter. The key for Tennessee will be to stop penetration without drawing the interest of the officials - a tall task for a team that had 6 players with 4 or more fouls in the opener against MTSU.
Speaking of the Lady Vols: Tennessee worked through many early-season jitters against Middle Tennessee on Friday. Between the cascade of fouls and the cold shooting (22-61, 3-13 from three, and don't ask about the first half), the Lady Vols survived their scares against a Blue Raiders team that is expected to win the C-USA. Andraya Carter was the defensive star and seemingly the lone guard who figured out how to defend without the laying on of hands. Mercedes Russell played nervously in the first half, but settled down and ended with a nice career-opening 11 points and 3 blocks in 22 minutes. Meighan Simmons perhaps had the roughest night: the gunner shot 2-11 from the floor (1-5 from three) with 0 assists and 4 turnovers.
While North Carolina has more players available, Tennessee has more overall talent and had a huge edge in interior play (in terms of size, experience, and talent). The game will hinge on who can dictate the type of game played: will North Carolina control flow through their guards, or can Tennessee force the game inside and let their posts dictate the action? As both teams figure out how to play under the new rules, the first team to adapt will likely set the tone and win the contest.
Prediction: 77 - 69 Tennessee (we're optimists)
Foul Count Over/Under: 40 combined.