However, with coach Roy Williams‘ squad set to face No. 1 Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Wednesday, the Heels cannot overlook the always tough University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (5-2) in Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Sunday.
The first reason for concern is simply being away from the friendly confines of the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill. North Carolina has been forced to rely on several freshmen and sophomores this season, and playing on the road is always the most difficult obstacle for younger players.
Also, UAB has shown in the past its players are not intimidated by big name schools. Carolina has already shown it can be beaten after falling to Belmont. Fans can be assured UAB coach Jerod Haase — an assistant coach at UNC for nine years — will do everything he can to prepare his team. The Tar Heels — even in the victory over Louisville — have had problems stalling scorers. UAB junior guard Chad Frazier is leading the Blazers in scoring (18.6 PPG) and assists (5.3). He has the ability to take advantage of being guarded by North Carolina freshman guard Nate Britt. In a perfect world the longer Marcus Paige would cover Frazier, but to avoid foul trouble, Britt will probably have to deal with the talented guard more often than not.
Senior forward Rod Rucker may also pose problems for the Tar Heels’ young front line as he is averaging 12.4 PPG and 9.9 RPG. His experience, mixed with a little senior guile, could frustrate Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson in the paint.
North Carolina, on its talent alone, should handle UAB. However, if the Tar Heels display any signs of weakness the Blazers would not surprise anyone by pulling off the upset at home.