UNC vs. Ohio State preview

North Carolina (7-4) vs. No. 23 Ohio State (7-2)
CBS Sports Classic
New York – Madison Square Garden
Saturday 17th December – 3 p.m
CBS (Brad Nessler, Bill Raftery, Jenny Dale)

“Obviously not a finished product, but we’ve improved. I mean, in the week and a half we’ve been here, we’re playing better defense, we’re rebounding better. We had 24 assists, so we did an extra. We’re shooting better. So, do you? That means we’re exactly where we want to be? No. But I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. And it’s a great opportunity to play against a really good Ohio State team in New York City this Saturday, and we’re excited for the challenge.” —UNC coach Hubert Davis, after the Tar Hills hit a 100-67 home run from the Citadel Tuesday night to take two straight home wins.

“Everyone who gets into the game, there should be no holding back because we’re all great and great abilities that are different in the way we play. So like Jalen (Washington), Dontrez (Styles), Seth (Trimble), D’Marco (Dunn) when Be healthy, Justin (McKoy), everyone who sits on the bench should be no excuse for there ever going down.” UNC freshman Tyler Nickell, after the Tar Heels erupted for 42 points off the bench in blowing up the Citadel, up 26 points from his season’s best scoring off the bench.

Pre-match notes

Big rebound: North Carolina’s wins over Georgia Tech and Citadel in the last two games won’t make a significant section of any team’s NCAA tournament resume. But still, those wins felt important from a rebounding perspective, and were definitely needed after the Tar Heels came home with four straight losses. Now, against 23rd-ranked Ohio State elsewhere for a neutral court in Madison Square Garden, comes the opportunity to gauge whether UNC has turned the corner.

Tar Heels will come from a number of heights. UNC’s 33-point margin of victory over the Citadel was the largest in two seasons under Davis. UNC has connected with a season-best 15 successful three-pointers and distributed a season-best 24 assists. Caleb Love handed out six assists and no turnovers for the first time this season, to go along with his 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range. Nickel hit three points in three seconds—he had assisted one in the first 10 games of the season—while scoring a season-best 16 points to lead the Tar Heels off the bench.

Potential net earnings: UNC has come down to two chances to secure potentially useful wins against major non-conference opponents, Saturday against Ohio State in New York and next week against Michigan in Charlotte. Beating the Buckeyes this weekend would provide a boost on several fronts, including the Tar Heels’ NET ranking, the value index system used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee for ranking teams when the brackets are revealed in March.

Ohio State is ranked No. 28 in the NET rankings, while UNC ranks No. 34. A defeat of Michigan would score less of an impact on the NET, at least for now, as the Wolverines are ranked No. 80, though that doesn’t mean it detracts from the victory. which the tar heels wish to secure. UNC is 0-4 against Quadrant 1 teams in the net—losing to Iowa State and Alabama in the Phil Knight Invitational and on the road at Indiana and Virginia Tech—and has only one win away from home, a Thanksgiving Day defeat of Portland.

Armed Forces Commandant General Armando Pacotte and Ohio State Force Ranger Zed K. (Photo: Inside Carolina/Adam Cairns, Columbus Dispatch, USA Today Network)

Game winning plays: Ohio State hadn’t played since December 8, and that game ended in controversy with Tanner Holden nailing a three-pointer as time expired to put the Buckeyes ahead of Rutgers 67-66 in the Big Ten’s opener. This was the only bucket of the night for Holden, however, as the Wright State transfer.

After Caleb McConnell hit one of two free throws with five seconds remaining to put Rutgers ahead 66-64, Holden went out of bounds as fellow Ohio State Bruce Thornton pushed his dribble toward midcourt, trapping Rutgers. Holden had gone clear out of bounds and back on the inside when Thornton passed him, for what became the three-point victory. He only let her fly a tenth of a second away, and the last horn sounded with the shot in the air. The crew in charge counted the basket, and determined that Holden had re-established his position before catching up to help Thornton.

Eye on Buckeyes: Ohio State has not had the services of backup guard Eugene Brown III yet this season due to a concussion, and the Buckeyes were without versatile player and team captain Isaac Likeeli last week against Rutgers. The 6-foot-5 Laikele was inclined to a personal matter. He has 118 games in 122 college career games and leads Ohio State in assists (3.1 per game), while ranking second on the team in rebounding (6.3 boards per game).

Saturday’s low-key game between UNC standout Armando Pacote and Ohio State’s quarterback ZK is worth watching. Key is coming off a career-high 22 points in the Buckeyes’ win over Rutgers. He achieved a career best by grabbing 14 rebounds in that game, to produce his fourth double-double of the season. The 6-8 Key leads Ohio State in scoring and rebounding, but the 6-11 Buckott, one of college basketball’s best men, will have the height advantage.

Ohio State is 2-1 in neutral sites (beats over Cincinnati and Texas Tech, loss to San Diego State) and 0-1 in away games (loss to Duke) this season.

last meeting: Ohio State led UNC 74-49 on December 4, 2019, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The 25-point margin of defeat was the second-largest for the Tar Heels at the Smith Center, and they shot 27.4 percent from the field, their lowest ever in their home court. Cole Anthony’s 15 points topped UNC that night. Backout, then a rookie, left in the first 7.5 minutes of the game with an ankle injury and did not return.

Series history: UNC leads the series 12-3 all-time, including a pair of wins at CBS Sports Classic games in December 2014 in Chicago and December 2017 in New Orleans. The Tar Heels enjoyed a seven-game winning streak against Ohio State, until the Buckeyes rolled into Chapel Hill in the final meeting between the two teams.

UNC is 2-0 against Ohio State at Madison Square Garden. The Tar Heels beat the Buckeyes in the original building in the East Regional Final of the 1946 NCAA Tournament, and six decades later in the current facility as part of the Coaches Against Cancer Semifinals in November 2009.

North Carolina returns to Madison Square Garden for the first time since December 28, 2010, when the Tar Heels beat Rutgers 78-55. The arena underwent a billion dollar renovation from 2011 to 2013. Ohio State has won five of its last seven trips to Madison Square Garden. The Buckeyes’ last game there was a 69-68 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.

Expected UNC Starters:
1 Leaky Black (Gr., 6-9, 205) — 6.3 parts per gallon, 5.6 turns per gallon
2 Caleb Love (Jr., 6-4, 200) – 18 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg
4 RJ Davis (Jr., 6-0, 175) – 15.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg
5 Armando Bacot (Sr., 6-11, 235) – 16.4 ppg, 11.3 rpg
32 Beth Nance (Gr., 6-11, 230) – 13 ppg, 6.4 rpg

Expected Ohio State Starters:
2 Bruce Thornton (Fr., 6-2, 215) – 9.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.7 apg

4 Sean McNeil (Gr., 6-4, 205) – 10 ppg, 1.9 rpg
10 Brice Sensabaugh (fr, 6-6, 235) — 14.1 ppg, 3.2 rpm
14 Justice Sueing (Sr., 6-6, 210) – 12.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2 apg
23 Zed Key (Jr., 6-8, 255) – 14.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg

UNC information
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Ohio information
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