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UNC vs. Florida Gulf Coast or Fairleigh Dickinson: Getting to know the Tar Heels’ first round opponent

North Carolina begins play in the NCAA tournament on Thursday in Raleigh but the Tar Heels don’t yet know who they’ll be playing. Will it be Florida Gulf Coast? Will it be Fairleigh Dickinson?

Those teams play each other on Tuesday night in Dayton in one of two NCAA tournament play-in games – otherwise cleverly called the “First Four.” Then either Florida Gulf Coast or Fairleigh Dickinson will make its way to Raleigh to play against the Tar Heels.

As if it things weren’t already difficult enough for a No. 16 seed, it will be playing UNC on minimal rest and with minimal time to prepare. Not exactly the circumstances under which you’d expect a competitive game on Thursday.

Even so, if you’re like me, you wondered what these teams are about. And so here’s a rundown of Florida Gulf Coast and Fairleigh Dickinson, one of which will play against top-seeded UNC on Thursday night. Information includes the player to know, strengths, weaknesses, and the overall threat level to UNC, on a scale of one Darvin Ham to five Darvin Hams.

Ham, you’ll remember, was the Texas Tech player who broke the backboard on a dunk against UNC when the Red Raiders upset the Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament 20 years ago. We’ll give the same treatment to all of UNC’s opponents in the NCAA tournament.

No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast

Record: 20-13 (8-6 Atlantic Sun)

How they got in: Atlantic Sun tournament champion

RPI: 213

Kenpom: 174

Opponents common to UNC: None

They’re good at: Perimeter defense. The Eagles are holding opponents to 31 percent 3-point shooting, which is eighth-best among NCAA tournament teams.

They’re not good at: Free throw shooting. Florida Gulf Coast has made 64.5 percent of its free throws, which ranks 331st nationally. Among tournament teams only Middle Tennessee is worse from the line.

Their guy: Marc-Eddy Norelia, Jr., F, 6-foot-8, 218 (17.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg)

What to know about him: He was named first-team All-Atlantic Sun and earned conference player of the week honors three times; began his college career at Tulane and transferred.

Overall threat level: 1 Darvin Ham

Rationale: The Eagles’ best win probably came against a Massachusetts team that finished 14-18.

Storylines you’ll hear about: “Hey, didn’t these guys used to be known as ‘Dunk City?’ Whatever happened to that? Oh, it’s still a thing?” ... “A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed.”

UNC fan should be concerned because: Anything less than complete and utter start-to-finish domination will lead to questions, a lot of them probably silly, about whether UNC was focused enough entering the tournament and whether the Tar Heels have reverted to old habits.

UNC fan should not be concerned because: UNC would probably win this game comfortably with its second five.

Final word: A No. 16 seed has never beaten a top seed and while that might change some day, it will not change in this particular game on Thursday in Raleigh.

No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson

Record: 18-14 (11-7 Northeast)

How they got in: Won Northeast tournament

RPI: 204

Kenpom: 263

Opponents common to UNC: None

They’re good at: Playing at a quick pace. The Knights average 72 possessions per game and are the sixth-fastest team, in terms of tempo, in the tournament – just ahead of UNC.

They’re not good at: Rebounding – especially defensive rebounding. Opposing teams have rebounded 36 percent of their missed shots, which makes Fairleigh Dickinson the worst defensive rebounding team in the field.

Defense. The Knights are 333rd nationally in defensive efficiency.

Their guy: Darian Anderson, So., G, 6-1, 170 (15.4 ppg, 3.7 apg)

What to know about him: Was second-team All-Northeast; led team to Northeast tournament championship with 28 points, six rebounds and five assists in 87-79 win against Wagner.

Overall threat level: 1 Darvin Ham

Rationale: Even if the Knights could score at a decent rate against UNC they’re (by far) the worst defensive team in the tournament.

Storylines you’ll hear about: “Did you know that Fairleigh Dickinson has one of the worst defensive teams in the country and that UNC is one of the best offensive teams?” … “A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed.”

UNC fan should be concerned because: That Smith Center biscuit promo – a discount at Bojangles when the Tar Heels score 100 points or more – doesn’t apply to NCAA tournament games.

UNC fan should not be concerned because: There’s virtually no chance of this being a competitive game during the final 30 minutes or so.

Final word: Fairleigh Dickinson? More like fairly easy for the Tar Heels, am I right?

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