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Men’s Basketball: Ohio State faces toughest challenge to date against No. 5 North Carolina

Ohio State senior forward Jae’Sean Tate finishes a dunk in the first half against Appalachian State on Dec. 16, 2017 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Station Manager

Since playing Michigan on Dec. 4, Ohio State (10-3, 2-0 Big Ten) has dominated three straight nonconference opponents, scoring at least 80 points and allowing no more than 67 points in any game. The Buckeyes will not find their next matchup quite as easy. They travel to New Orleans to play No. 5 North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Here is a rundown of what to expect out of that game.

Projected Starters

UNC:

G — Joel Berry II — Senior, 6-foot, 195 lbs., 17.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.5 apg,

G — Kenny Williams — Junior, 6-foot-4, 185 lbs., 13.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg

G/F — Theo Pinson — Senior, 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., 8.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.7 apg

F — Garrison Brooks — Freshman, 6-foot-9, 215 lbs., 6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.8 apg

F — Luke Maye — Junior, 6-foot-8, 240 lbs., 19.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.3 apg

Ohio State:

G — Musa Jallow — Freshman, 6-foot-5, 200 lbs., 4.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.3 apg

G — C.J. Jackson — Junior, 6-foot-1, 175 lbs., 13.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.4 apg

F — Jae’Sean Tate — Senior, 6-foot-4, 230 lbs., 12.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg

F — Keita Bates-Diop — Redshirt junior, 6-foot-7, 235 lbs., 18.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.5 apg

C — Kaleb Wesson — Freshman, 6-foot-9, 270 lbs., 12.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 0.8 apg

Scouting UNC

Ohio State has played a ranked opponent only once this season, and it was an 86-59 loss to now-No. 12 Gonzaga. The team it faces Saturday might be even better than that Bulldog squad. According to Kenpom.com, North Carolina is the No. 11 team in the nation, one spot ahead of Gonzaga.

The Tar Heels have handled a few quality teams to this point, beating Stanford 96-72, Michigan 86-71 and No. 21 Tennessee 78-73. Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said in watching the film of those wins, it is clear North Carolina is a team that should be making a return trip to the Final Four in 2018.

“There’s a reason they’re the No. 5 team in the country,” Holtmann said Thursday. “We’ve watched them play both home and away, they were up on Michigan by 30 with 10 minutes to go. They just can be really, really explosive. Obviously they have a terrific win at Tennessee. Every time you’re watching them play, you’re trying to evaluate things.”

But while North Carolina has several big wins on its resume, it also has several standout losses. In its first real test of the season, it was beat down by now-No. 2 Michigan State 63-45, and lost to Wofford 79-75 Wednesday night.

The Tar Heels tend to be one of the more dominant teams in the nation across the board, ranking as both a top-20 team by KenPom in both adjusted offensive efficiency (No. 14) and adjusted defensive efficiency (No. 19). But there is one area that could bode well for the Buckeyes. When Ohio State struggles, it is because it gets into turnover trouble. According to KenPom, Ohio State ranks No. 173 in offensive turnover rate. But the Tar Heels have not been a team to force many turnovers this season, ranking only 267th in defensive turnover rate.

In North Carolina’s loss to Wofford, it forced just 10 turnovers and scored eight points off those turnovers.

But that is one of the only matchups that looks favorable for the Buckeyes. The Tar Heels typically run a zone defense, a scheme that has caused Ohio State fits offensively all season.

The Buckeyes also have not dealt with up-tempo teams well. The three teams that have beaten Ohio State — Gonzaga, Butler and Clemson — average just 16.8 seconds per offensive possession this season. The three Power Five teams Ohio State has beaten — Wisconsin, Michigan and Stanford — average 18.2 seconds per offensive possession. The Tar Heels are the seventh-fastest team in the nation on offense, taking just 14.4 seconds on every offensive possession.

Ohio State forward Jae’Sean Tate said the team has spent extensive time at practice this week working on transition defense in anticipation for North Carolina’s faster offense.

“The way they get the ball up the court so fast even on made-baskets, going to be key trying to make them play in the half-court is basically what we’re going to have to try to do,” Tate said.

How will UNC rebound from its loss to Wofford?

Both Ohio State and North Carolina wrapped up relatively easy nonconference stretches of their schedules before the upcoming trip to New Orleans. But unlike Ohio State, North Carolina could not handle its business against Wofford, losing 79-75.

Wofford shot 43.8 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from beyond the arc overall, but was exceptional in the second half. The Terriers shot 50 percent (17-for-34) from the field, while also maintaining a 40 percent 3-point success rate with 6-of-15 makes. The Tar Heels, by comparison, shot only 36.4 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3-point range during the game. North Carolina, not known to be a 3-point shooting team, fell behind to Wofford and tried to make it all back up in bulk, but went just 5-for-16 from beyond the arc in the second half.

The loss to a 25-point underdog could do one or two things to a team: it could serve as sufficient motivation to play as hard as possible the next time out or it could drag down morale. Holtmann and the Buckeyes are preparing for the former, reflecting on how the Tar Heels responded to its first loss of the season to Michigan State.

“After they came back from getting beat by Michigan State, they were phenomenal against Michigan and it was incredible. Like I said, up 30 midway through the second half. I think any time you have a veteran team, that’s typically what happens,” Holtmann said. “You look at it, you say, ‘Absolutely, I’m pretty confident that we’re going to get their very best.’”

Prediction:

UNC wins 76-68

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