Chris Collins is trying his best not to make Monday night too personal.
When his Northwestern team takes on 3-1 North Carolina in Kansas City, Mo., Collins will try to put aside sentiments from the rivalry as a former Duke player and assistant coach.
"No disdain, healthy respect," the Wildcats coach said of the Tar Heels. "It has been amazing to compete against them for all of these years. I love the history of the game with what Coach (Dean) Smith did there and now Coach (Roy) Williams. Just to have a chance to compete against them is an awesome honor. ... It raises your level when you play against people like that, and hopefully we will be up to the challenge."
It will be a tall challenge indeed for his Wildcats (3-0), who had to go into overtime Friday night to dispatch Columbia. But Collins is thinking big.
"It's an exciting opportunity for us to go into a tournament atmosphere on a neutral floor to play the No. 1 team in the country," Collins said before North Carolina was upset Saturday by Northern Iowa.
"In these games, early on you can see where you're at.. I want our guys to play loose and free. I don't want them to feel any pressure. Just go out and do what we do, and let's see what happens."
Northwestern, coming off a 15-17 season, wants to build its resume and win total in the nonconference segment of the season before the tough Big Ten slate begins.
On his 21st birthday, sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh scored a career-high 32 points and senior Tre Demps added 22 in the 83-80 overtime victory over Columbia at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"I like where we're at offensively. We showed (Friday night) we can shoot the ball. That's a real strength with our spacing," Collins said.
"The way our guards have been playing has been outstanding. For them to get 54 points and 12 assists combined is just a big-time game. I think we're evolving. I think we have to continue to get better offensively on the glass, and that is going to be tested on Monday because that is the best thing Carolina does."
Northwestern has outrebounded its first three opponents 114-109. Transfer center Joey van Zegeren, a 6-foot-10, 235-pounder, is being counted on to help out 7-foot Alex Olah on the boards.
"He got six rebounds (against Columbia) in 10 minutes, and we've got to get him in there more. He is really doing a good job," Collins said of the former Virginia Tech player. "I've got to get his minutes up a little bit. Alex has had to carry the load the last two years. We really didn't have that other option. (Van Zegeren) is bringing the energy, and he has really done a good job for us."