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Texas' Connor Lammert, right, pressures North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo during the second half of an their game on Dec. 19. Texas won 85-67. (Associated Press)

Texas' Connor Lammert, right, pressures North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo during the second half of an their game on Dec. 19. Texas won 85-67. (Associated Press)

Cowboys clear underdogs for Saturday's game against Tar Heels

Last Modified: Friday, December 21, 2012 6:12 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

North Carolina has McDonald’s All-Americans.

McNeese State has guys who have eaten at McDonald’s.

So even though the Cowboys (6-3) enter today’s 11 a.m. game on a five-game winning streak and rated higher than the No. 23 Tar Heels (7-3) in terms of RPI (48th vs. 64th), there’s no question they are the underdogs.

“You see no weaknesses,” said McNeese State head coach Dave Simmons. “They’re very talented. Extremely well-coached. We have to try to keep them off-balance as best as we can and keep them out of their comfort zone. When they are in their comfort zone, they are extremely good.”

Though the best players in the history of each program matched up pretty well — Michael Jordan himself stated that no one defended him better than Joe Dumars — that’s pretty much where the comparisons stop.

North Carolina is one of college basketball’s crown jewels, with five national titles and 18 Final Four appearances. A third-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference is considered an off year.

McNeese arrived in Chapel Hill Thursday, getting in a Friday morning practice at the Dean Smith Center to try and overcome the awe of seeing national championship banners and Jordan’s jersey hanging from the rafters.

“I’m just trying to stay focused,” said McNeese guard Kevin Hardy, who grew up rooting on the Tar Heels. “It’s just another game of basketball. We’re just lining up against another team. It’s another set of college players. I have to keep reminding myself that even though I’m going to play a team that I’ve loved at a place that I love.”

Simmons also had the Cowboys practice in the morning all week, hoping to get the team accustomed to the early tip-off for the nationally televised ESPN U game.

The Heels are coming into the game on the heels of an 85-67 loss at Texas on Wednesday. Though many in the national media are down on this Carolina team compared to recent versions under Roy Williams, Simmons is not buying it.

“They’ve lost to Butler, who beat the No. 1 team in the nation,” Simmons said. “And the other team (Indiana) was No. 1 when they lost to them. That tells you how good they are and what it takes to beat them.”

From starters down to the bench, the Cowboys will be challenged to slow down the Tar Heels. But nowhere is that more pronounced than with 6-foot-9 power forward James Michael McAdoo, a projected NBA first-round pick who is averaging 15.3 points and 8.4 rebounds a game.

McNeese has beaten a team from the Sun Belt, WAC and Big 12 over its last three games. The last time the Cowboys played an ACC foe came two seasons ago when they lost to Boston College in the first round of the NIT at Burton Coliseum.

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