Rutgers vs. North Carolina -- a preview

Rutgers has a chance to make a statement on a national stage Tuesday night, when it takes on North Carolina at Madison Square Garden.

Tip-off is at 9 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. ESPNNewYork.com will be there.

The Scarlet Knights are 9-2 on the season, and have won six games in a row, heading into their final nonconference clash before Big East play begins. Under first-year coach Mike Rice, Rutgers is off to its best start with a new head coach since it opened up 10-2 under Donald S. White in 1945-46.

Rutgers features a very balanced offensive attack -- its leading scorer, 6-foot-7 senior forward Jonathan Mitchell, averages just 12.0 points per game. Three other starters average between 9.3 and 10.9 ppg. As a team, the Scarlet Knights average just 69 points per game.

The key for the Scarlet Knights will be to defend. In their nine wins, Rutgers has given up 65 points or less. Rutgers is second in the Big East, allowing just 58.2 ppg.

North Carolina comes in with a record of 8-4 -- the Tar Heels have been ranked as high as No. 8 in the country this season, but are currently unranked. In their last outing, they defeated William & Mary 85-60 on Dec. 21. Prior to that, they lost to No. 25 Texas, 78-76 in Greensboro, N.C.

The Tar Heels are led by 7-foot junior Tyler Zeller, who averages 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, shooting better than 50 percent from the field. Zeller could cause Rutgers big problems -- the Scarlet Knights don't have a starter taller than 6-foot-8.

North Carolina also features 6-foot-8 forward Harrison Barnes, the first freshman ever named to the Associated Press Preseason All-American team. Barnes has had an up-and-down first season, currently averaging 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.