No Doubt about It - Tar Heels Are Back Illinois Will Get First Big Test Today When North Carolina (5-0) Comes to Town

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Byline: Lindsey Willhite Daily Herald Sports Writer

After a disastrous season, the North Carolina Tar Heels have wasted no time stamping their footprint back onto the nation's roundball consciousness.

Judging by the sheer size of their revival, they're using freshman center Sean May's size-20 foot to do it.

North Carolina has been college basketball's biggest story of the early going after stomping its way to the Preseason NIT title.

Not only are the Tar Heels 5-0 and No. 12 in the new Associated Press poll, they're blasting teams such as former No. 2 Kansas using a three-freshmen, two-sophomores lineup.

That's what makes today's ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup at No. 25 Illinois (3-0) an even bigger deal than it was when first announced.

Not only will it be North Carolina visiting the sold-out Assembly Hall for just the second time in the building's 40-year history, these Tar Heels are drawn up to rescale the college basketball heights in a similar fashion as Illinois: With youth, pressure defense and an endless stream of blue-chip recruits.

No wonder Illinois coach Bill Self acts tickled about today's rare opportunity (8:30 p.m., ESPN2).

"To be quite honest, I'm glad it's Carolina," Self said. "Not because we're licking our chops to play Carolina, but at Illinois, you want to play against the best."

While Illinois thinks it possesses a great freshman class, North Carolina's group was ranked higher and looks even better.

Acrobatic 6-foot-4 wing Rashad McCants averages 21.2 points while shooting 67 percent from the field and better than 50 percent beyond the arc.

Silky 6-foot Raymond Felton, deemed the best point guard in last year's recruiting class, averages 9.2 points and 7.0 assists.

And the aforementioned May, who checks in at 6-8 and 272 pounds, looks like a hulk but plays with the grace of a ballerina. …