The road to the NCAA Final Four will once again start at Peter Barton Stadium for the Pioneers.
And, just like the previous two years, the North Carolina Tar Heels will block that road in the early rounds.
On Sunday, the Pioneers gathered in a Magness Arena suite to watch the NCAA Selection Show and found out they would host UNC for a night game (5:30pm MT) on national television. Denver was selected as the No. 5 overall seed among eighteen tournament teams. There were audible "ooohs" and clapping when it was revealed North Carolina would travel west to face the Pioneers at 5:00pm MT under the lights on DU's campus.
"I love playing UNC," said senior Jeremy Noble. "UNC is one of my favorite teams to play against. They are very well-coached and talented, but that's a team I think is my favorite to play against. I couldn't have asked for a better match-up."
The Pioneers didn't play the Tar Heels during their non-conference schedule in the regular season, but did schedule them for a scrimmage in late January. Even if the game didn't count towards the standings, head coach Bill Tierney knows those experiences play a big role in the preparation for Saturday's game.
"We know them so well, and they know us so well," said Tierney. "Sometimes you'd like to see a new face. But when you know somebody well, you know how to prepare and they know how to prepare. It's just going to be a war between the kids."
Denver is currently riding an eleven-game winning streak, including going undefeated in the Big East. Despite being ranked No.2 in the country in most polls, the Pioneers enter the tournament with only a few wins against top-ranked opponents. This left many analysts on Sunday picking against the Pioneers, leaving UNC as one of the favorites to advance to the Final Four.
The Pioneers heard every prediction loud and clear.
"I think a lot of people overlook us," said Noble. "I think they are going to realize we are for real. We're well-coached and a well-rounded team, and we're so much closer as a group this season than the last three seasons. I think that's going to go a long way for us this tournament."
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