Deacs, Heels match up

ACC heavyweights to test each other

Staff WriterJanuary 11, 2009 

— Wake Forest point guard Jeff Teague is playing as well as any player in the ACC, according to North Carolina coach Roy Williams. But the praise for the Demon Deacons doesn't stop there.

Forward James Johnson, Williams predicts, will be playing for a lot of money one day. Wake swingman L.D. Williams is as athletic as ever, and freshman Al-Farouq Aminu has added "youthful enthusiasm" (as well as a team-leading 8.9 rebounds per game) to the mix. And don't forget guards Ish Smith and Harvey Hale, former starters now coming off the bench.

Put 'em all together -- along with waves of reserves -- and No. 3 UNC will face a rarity when it plays the undefeated and fourth-ranked Demon Deacons at Lawrence Joel Coliseum tonight: an opponent that can actually match its firepower.

"You look at the stats, and it's eerie how closely the teams look numbers-wise," said Williams, whose team is trying to avoid falling to 0-2 in the ACC for the first time since 1996-97. "Then you start thinking about the depth and the people they can bring."

While the Tar Heels (14-1) feature 11 players averaging at least 12 minutes a game, the Deacons (13-0) are a close second in the league, with 10 athletes averaging at least 8 minutes a game.

Add that to both teams' speed and athleticism, and it's not surprising that UNC leads the conference in scoring offense and scoring margin, with Wake second and third, respectively; or that the Deacons lead the league in field goal percentage, just ahead of the Tar Heels..

"Both teams have pretty good depth," Wake coach Dino Gaudio said. "I like our bench. I'm sure Roy likes his bench. ... I don't know if two teams in the league play as many guys as we do."

While UNC deploys lightning-quick Ty Lawson and Larry Drew II at point guard, for example, Wake counters with quick-scoring Teague and Smith. Opposite UNC's Wayne Ellington and Bobby Frasor at wing guard, there are Williams, Clark and the sharpshooting Hale.

The Deacons have plenty of size in the frontcourt, too, what with the 6-foot-9 Johnson, the 6-9 Aminu and the 7-foot Chas McFarland in the starting lineup. Available off the bench are 6-11 David Weaver, 6-11 Tony Woods and 7-foot Ty Walker.

Still, only tip-off will tell whether that's enough to slow 6-9 Tar Heels All-America Tyler Hansbrough, who is averaging 22.9 points and 7.2 rebounds.

"I don't know if anybody matches up well with Hansbrough,'' said CBS basketball analyst Dan Bonner, who added it's hard to pick a favorite in the duels at the other four positions.

The Tar Heels, who blew out the College of Charleston on Wednesday, are eager to prove that their loss to Boston College last Sunday in Chapel Hill was a fluke. Meanwhile the Deacons, who haven't played since they snapped BYU's 53-game home winning streak on Jan. 3, are understandably antsy to test their unblemished record against Final Four favorite UNC.

"On paper, we look almost identical," Smith said. "Enough on paper ... we've got to play it on the court."

That's where each team hopes their numbers add up to a victory.

"Coach always says our sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth guys are going to have to step up,'' UNC's Ellington said. "In order to be better than their sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth guy, our guys are going to have to step up even more."

(Staff writer A.J. Carr contributed to this report.)

Robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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