Previewing Rutgers

After several days home with family for the holidays, the Tar Heels reconvene for a trip to snowy New York City to face Rutgers. Tuesday's tip-off at Madison Square Garden is set for 9 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN2.

North Carolina (8-4) vs. Rutgers (9-2)
New York, N.Y. -- Madison Square Garden
9 p.m. -- ESPN2 (John Saunders, Len Elmore)

Quotables

"Whenever you are dealing with UNC, it's transition defense and rebounding. These guys are one of the best transition teams in the country year-in and year-out." – Rutgers head coach Mike Rice

"Obviously, coach Roy Williams does a great job with NC, but we feel like 'Hey, we're doing a great job here too.' We've got a renewed energy, a new coach, a new spirit. It will be interesting to see how it plays out at the Garden, but I think it will be a lot closer than people think." – Rutgers forward Jonathan Mitchell

PREGAME NOTES

Season to Date: Rutgers enters Tuesday's contest with a 9-2 overall record. Mike Rice has guided the Scarlet Knights to their best start under a first-year head coach since the 1945-46 season, winning six straight after dropping two of their first five games. Rutgers boasts victories over Miami (61-45) and Auburn (63-54), but also dropped road games at Princeton (78-73 OT) and St. Joseph's (76-70).

Senior Heating Up: Jonathan Mitchell's overall statistics this season have been solid, as the Mt. Vernon, N.Y. native is averaging 12.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per outing. But the 6-foot-7, 225-pounder has increased his output recently, scoring 15.2 points per game over his last five contests. Mitchell's 45.7 3-point shooting percentage (16-of-35) currently ranks fifth in the Big East.

Effective at the Point: Senior guard Mike Coburn has directed the Scarlet Knights this season with efficiency, averaging 10.9 points while playing a team-high 33.2 minutes per game (5th in Big East). The 6-foot, 185-pounder leads the team with 41 assists and ranks ninth in the league with a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. Coburn also stands 13th in the Big East with a 1.7-steals-per-game mark.


Coburn
Getting It Done Defensively: Rice has quickly set the proper tone for his squad on the defensive end of the floor. The Scarlet Knights rank in the top-30 nationally in three key categories – field goal percentage defense (37.0, 16th), scoring defense (58.8, 24th) and blocked shots (5.4, 26th). Combine those statistics with a plus-4.9 turnover margin (19th nationally) and you have the recipe for a 9-2 record.

Stat to Watch: Rutgers is 1-2 on the season when its opponents score 60 points or more.

Remember Me? It only took a matter of days for Kadeem Jack's name to surface in the UNC sweepstakes to replace David and Travis Wear after the twins bolted Chapel Hill back in May. The New York City native had planned to attend prep school for a year to boost his exposure on the recruiting scene, but ultimately considered North Carolina and Kentucky before staying on track with his initial plans. The 6-foot-9, 210-pounder joined Rutgers at the semester break and practiced for the first time on Dec. 26.

Recruiting Talent: Jack is one of seven players that make up the highest-rated recruiting class in Rutgers' history. The 2011 class, set to enroll next fall, has been ranked as high as fifth nationally.

Yet Another Local Connection: James Beatty (6.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 spg) will undoubtedly elevate his game against the Tar Heels at the Garden, if for no other reason than the fact that the senior guard hails from Wilmington, N.C. He played alongside former UNC recruit and current Wake Forest player Ty Walker at New Hanover High School, and knocked down the go-ahead shot in the final seconds of the '07 state championship game played at the Smith Center. Beatty's father was the last player at Laney High School in Wilmington to wear No. 23 before Michael Jordan came along.

Familiar Foe: Tuesday's game marks the fourth time in five years that Rutgers and North Carolina have played on Dec. 28.

Last Meeting: The Tar Heels held off a late rally by the Scarlet Knights to win, 81-67, at the Smith Center on Dec. 28, 2009. UNC led by as many as 17 in the second half, but guard Mike Rosario (22 points) helped Rutgers cut that deficit to only two points with two minutes left to play. Dexter Strickland led North Carolina with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while Deon Thompson scored 14 points and Ed Davis posted a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds.

Series History: North Carolina leads the all-time series with Rutgers, 11-1. The Scarlet Knights won the first meeting between these two programs back in 1921, but has lost every game since to the Tar Heels. Tuesday's contest is the final installment of a five-game series.

Projected Starters:
31 Mike Coburn (6-0, 185, Sr.) – 10.9 ppg, 3.7 apg
10 James Beatty (6-2, 190, Sr.) – 6.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg
11 Dane Miller (6-7, 215, So.) – 10.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg
24 Jonathan Mitchell (6-7, 225, Sr.) – 12.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg
55 Gilvydas Biruta (6-8, 230, Fr.) – 9.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg

Top Reserves:
32 Mike Poole (6-5, 190, Fr.) – 7.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg
21 Austin Johnson (6-8, 250, So.) – 5.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg
5 Robert Lumpkins (6-7, 215, Sr.) – 3.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg
2 Austin Carroll (6-3, 200, Fr.) – 2.4 ppg, 1.3 apg

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