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The Daily Tar Heel

Eagles face tall task with young team

North Carolina and Boston College, the Tar Heels’ first ACC opponent this season, look like polar opposite squads coming into the 2011-12 season.

The Tar Heels are one of the early favorites to win the national championship and were predicted to win the ACC in the 2011 preseason media poll.

Boston College is picked to finish last.

UNC could have had three players picked in the 2011 NBA draft, but instead all three decided to stay in school.

Reggie Jackson, the Eagles’ best player a year ago, left Boston College and came out for the draft a year early.

North Carolina’s rotation is based around a stable core of returning talent. The Tar Heels also have five incoming recruits, but none are likely to be starters, at least not early on in the season.

The Eagles have nine freshmen on their roster, and they are all fighting for playing time.

“It makes things a lot more interesting,” freshman Dennis Clifford said. “In practice everything is a lot more competitive, everything is pretty much up for grabs. Guys are really competing more than a normal team would.”

Clifford, a 7-foot center, said the competition is healthy.

“When guys are getting after each other trying to get a position and minutes, it really makes you work hard every play,” Clifford said.

But freshman guard Patrick Heckmann sounded less certain about the chemistry of a young team just starting to play together.

“We’ve been focusing on getting to know each other,” Heckmann said. “We’ve been playing a lot to get used to the system and get used to the guys, know what everyone can do, at least get to a level where we know each other.”

Coach Steve Donahue said that even with all the newcomers, Boston College simply doesn’t have the recruiting clout that helps schools with bigger basketball programs land top-notch talent.

“I can’t bang heads. We’re not going to win those (recruiting) wars,” Donahue said. “I’m going to try to find the best players we can legitimately get in recruiting.”

Of course, preseason predictions don’t necessarily mean much, and the Eagles might turn out better than they seem on paper. But when they come to Chapel Hill on Jan. 7, they will likely be heavy underdogs.

The game could be the first real test for Boston College, most of whose non-conference opponents are New England schools not known for their basketball teams. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, will already have played contenders Michigan State, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Texas.

“The hard part is, we’re going to have failures,” Donahue said. “We’re going to have moments where these kids are going to realize that this is a very high level of basketball and they are going to be way younger, way less experienced.”

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