Basketball preview: Ohio State heads to New York City to take on North Carolina in a CBS Sports Classic game at Madison Square Garden

This is not exactly the pre-season game it is supposed to be.

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North Carolina (7-4)

Madison Square Garden



After kicking off the national championship game in the NCAA Tournament this past spring, North Carolina started the year as the #1 preseason team in the nation. Ohio State, on the other hand, started 2022-23 unranked with relatively undefined expectations for its performance.

Six weeks later, the Buckeyes are the team with a number next to their name, while the Tar Heels entered Saturday’s CBS Sports Classic on the heels of four losses in their past six games, crashing free out of the AP Top 25 in the process.

The results for each side suggest that the 3 p.m. notification at Madison Square Garden in New York City could be sooner than most people expected a month ago. But while the Tar Heels are off to a slower start than they were a year ago, let’s not forget that they suffered double losses in 2021-22 and are still just four points shy of last season’s national championship.

Chris Holtmann believes the current team might be able to replicate such a run if they put it all together at the right time.

“They have another team that can make it to the Final Four,” Holtmann said Monday. “There is no question.”

KenPom ranked North Carolina 22nd overall with the offense #9 in the nation in terms of adjusted efficiency margin. Two of the Tar Heels’ losses came to top 20 teams in the country (Alabama and Indiana) and the other two were single-digit losses to Iowa State and Virginia Tech. The latter contest saw North Carolina go out on the court without one of its best players, senior forward Armando Pacote, who was struggling with a shoulder injury. Since then, though, Hubert Davis and company have bounced back to beat Georgia Tech and The Citadel in impressive fashion.

After a beating victory over Rutgers in the Big Ten opener on December 8, Ohio State is seeking a second straight victory over North Carolina after blowing out the Tar Heels, 74-49, in Chapel Hill three seasons ago.

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The return of the tar heel talent

If you need an excuse for North Carolina’s No. 1 preseason status, look no further: The Tar Heels returned 73.3% of their minutes played and 71.2% of their scoring production from last year’s roster. Compare that to Ohio State’s 16.2 and just 14.1 percentage points in the same categories.

North Carolina has recovered four of its five starters from last year to the national championship game, and four of its top five scorers. Three of the Tar Heels’ top five players are seniors this season, and the other two are juniors. North Carolina has experience in spades, and 11 players on the roster are top 100 recruits.

Best backcountry in the nation

North Carolina’s guard play was a particular focus for Holtmann, who said the Tar Heel backcourt is “probably the best in the country.” Starting guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis, who each had 30-point performances during the NCAA tournament last season, are averaging 33.2 points per game for North Carolina this season. This number represents 41% of North Carolina’s total enrollment rate of 80.9.

A familiar foe from the Big Ten

A new face for North Carolina this season is one that Ohio State already has a lot of experience fitting in over the past four seasons. Northwestern transfer forward Pete Nance puts up 13 points per game and 6.4 rebounds and has started all 11 games for the Tar Heels. A power forward at 6-foot-11, Nance is the best three-point shooter in North Carolina, having knocked down 40% of his attempts to date.

In his last outing against the Buckeyes before a season, Nance gave Ohio State bouts with a 20-point performance on 7-for-12 shooting.

“He’s just a really good player. He’s not compatible at 6-10,” Holtmann said. “You can shoot triples, you can drive them. Really skilled, he can score in the long post, with great length. It’s a great pick for them, because he’s a really good player.”

Three important Buckeyes

Zed key

Returning to his home state this weekend, the Bay Shore, New York, native can continue the recent encounter that made him Ohio State’s leading scorer (14.3 points per game) and rebounder (8.7 rebounds). Key scored 20 or more points in two of the past three games, and set a new career high with 22 the last time out against Rutgers. Key averaged 18 points per game on 80.8% shooting in this stretch, and only missed three of his 23 two-point shooting attempts.

Brice Sensabaugh

Assuming Isaac Kekel out again For Ohio State as he tends to the Texas family, the freshman winger should make his second straight start for the Buckeyes. In 31 minutes against Rutgers, his biggest workload of the season, Sensabaugh scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range. But the last time Ohio State played a stellar program, Sensabaugh had its worst game of the season against Duke, finishing with more offenses (five) than points (four) in just 14 action minutes.

Tanner Holden

Champ Ohio State’s one-point win over Rutgers, a game-winning buzzer hitter, may have been exactly what Holden needed to really go into his first year at Columbus. After putting up 12 points in the season opener, Wright State averaged just 3.9 points over the next eight contests. Even after a last-second bout against the Scarlet Knights, Holden only finished with three points on December 8. But this shot could be a stepping stone to Holden’s confidence on offense, and the Buckeyes could certainly use it against last year’s national runner-up.

Three important tar heels

Caleb Love

expected starting line



to rise


Season stats

Caleb Love




18.0 PPG, 3.4 APG

RG Davis




15.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG

black leak




6.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG

Nance’s house




13.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG

Armando Pacote




16.4 PPG, 11.3 RPG

North Carolina’s leading scorer scored 18 points per game as Love enjoyed his most efficient season yet with the Tar Heels. The 2020 five-star recruit shoots a career-best 41.8% from the field, and his clips at 51.5% from two-point range are nearly 14% better than his average a year ago. The 6-foot-4 guard only shoots 28.8% from distance, but that hasn’t stopped him from racking up 20 points on four separate occasions this season, including 34 against Alabama. Love also leads the Tar Heels with an average of 3.4 assists per game.

RJ Davis

Another top 50 guard in the class of 2020, Davis is hitting 15.2 points per game as North Carolina’s third-leading scorer so far this season. The only Tar Heel to average more shot attempts per game than Love, Davis made 42% of his field goals and 29.2% of his 3-point attempts. Despite standing just 6 feet tall, Davis is also one of the most productive rebounds on the list averaging 5.2 per game – the fourth most by a Tar Heels rebounder this season.

Armando Pacote

One of two tar heels (along with Love) to be a Final Four all-tournament team last spring, Bacot was just as productive a senior as he was in 2021-22. The 6-foot-11 forward averages 16.4 points (No. 2 UNC) and captains the team with 11.3 rebounds per game. In fact, Backout pulls in nearly five more rebounds per night than any of his teammates. Despite missing the Virginia Tech game after suffering a shoulder injury against Indiana on November 30, Backout returned to play in the Tar Heels’ last two victories over Georgia Tech and The Citadel.

“The size and the body, I think that’s the most important thing,” Holtmann said. “He can score on the last low. He’s just a very talented player.”

How it works

Line: North Carolina-1, O/U: 151.5

At their best, North Carolina should be able to outpace Ohio State, given their talent and experience. But in light of their recent results, it appears as if the Tar Heels may need more time to gather form from last year’s stellar run in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes have hung out with every opponent they’ve faced thus far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a few extra plays late on for a win under the spotlight at MSG.

prediction: Ohio State 73, North Carolina 72

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