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UNC's Trip to Appalachian State Marks Many Firsts

Doherty has joined the likes of Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Florida's Billy Donovan in a youth movement that has made distinguishing a coach from his players increasingly difficult.

This movement has also trickled down to some of the most successful mid-major programs in the country. Winthrop's Gregg Marshall and Tulsa's Buzz Peterson, who have already faced North Carolina, are both younger than the 38-year-old Doherty.

And they are both leading programs that made the NCAA tournament last season.

That streak continues tonight when 34-year-old Houston Fancher leads Appalachian State against the Tar Heels.

"I don't know if the game is changing, but the coaches have changed," Doherty said. "These young guys have done a pretty good job."

The Mountaineers host North Carolina at 7:30 p.m. in Fancher's head-coaching debut.

Tonight's contest is the first game that will be played at Appalachian State's new 8,300-seat Seby Jones Arena. It also marks the first pregame sellout in Mountaineer basketball history.

If the Tar Heels' first appearance in Boone in 40 years wasn't enough to heighten emotions, Appalachian State will be playing in its first game since the death of shooting guard Rufus Leach.

Leach, Appalachian State's leading scorer last season at 16.4 points a game, drowned this summer when he suffered leg cramps while trying to swim from an anchored boat to a dock off the Watauga Lake in Tennessee.

At a halftime ceremony, Leach's family will be given his Southern Conference championship ring, as well as a retired uniform. Leach will also be honored with an honorary degree from the university.

"The emotions are going to be huge," Fancher said. "I think our kids will feel an emotional high. We've done as much as we can to make sure we dedicate this season to Rufus and honor his memory with the way we play.

"I think you'll see a lot of returning players come out with a fire that might otherwise not have been there."

Leach's absence has left Fancher searching for a starting shooting guard. Fancher said three candidates - Noah Brown, Nick Huge and Matt Jones - are in contention for the job.

Fancher also is looking for a starter at power forward. Three more candidates - Buddy Davis, Michael Patten and Donald Payne - are contending for that position.

Fancher said he hoped to know who his starters would be by Thursday.

"We're sort of like North Carolina's point guard situation," Fancher said.

Little has changed regarding that situation since the Tar Heels defeated Tulsa on Saturday night. More uncertainty exists regarding the status of Max Owens and Neil Fingleton.

Owens is still recovering from a sprained ankle that he suffered before the NABC Classic. Doherty said he hoped Owens could practice with the team Thursday for the first time since his injury.

Owens averaged 7.4 points for the Tar Heels last season and made 81 percent of his free throws.

"If he practices and recovers from practice, then hopefully he'll be able to go," Doherty said.

Fingleton, a

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7-foot-5 freshman, has been practicing with the team recently after sitting out the preseason recovering from back surgery.

Doherty said he's not sure if Fingleton is ready to play in a game yet.

"He needs to get into game shape and also get comfortable with our offenses and defenses," Doherty said.

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.