North Carolina can't afford to stall amid stretch of highly ranked foes
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina is in a part of its schedule that’s stocked with quality opponents, much of like the Tar Heels rarely have seen in this volume at this time of the year.
So with the team’s offense still unable to produce at the normal North Carolina pace, there’s coach Roy Williams hoping the Tar Heels don’t stall in this busy traffic.
Wednesday night there’s an ACC / Big Ten Challenge game against visiting Ohio State, an undefeated outfit that hasn’t allowed an opponent to reach the 60-point mark.
That’s potentially significant because North Carolina’s opening weeks have been odd if for no other reason the Tar Heels have yet to hit the 80-point mark. This is the first time the team has gone seven games to begin a season without scoring at least 80 points once since 1949-50.
It’s the lack of offensive flow that’s bothersome, Williams said Tuesday.
“The most irritating thing of any team I’ve ever coached,” he said, "because we've always been able to keep you on your heels."
North Carolina played three games last week, with the loss to Michigan and the victory against Oregon perhaps the most notable. Michigan is the new No. 4 team in the country, while Oregon slipped two spots to No. 13.
Combine those games with this Ohio State game and then Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference matchup at No. 5 Virginia and this could look alarming.
North Carolina has shot less than 50 percent from the field in every game, marking the longest stretch to open a season without hitting half their shots in 60 years — when it took 16 games to do so.
It’s not all mystifying on offense for the Tar Heels, who made 20 of 21 free throws in the Oregon that. That’s their best percentage in a game in 13 seasons with at least 20 attempts.
Freshman forward Armando Bacot’s 23-point, 12-rebound outing in the Oregon game gave the Tar Heels some more well-rounded production. His six blocked shots were the most for a North Carolina player since a 2016 NCAA Tournament game.
There also were a career-high 13 points from senior swingman Brandon Robinson.
Williams described the availability of starting guard Leaky Black, who has a toe ailment that kept him out of the second half Friday’s game, as a wait-and-see situation.
Two of Ohio State’s opponents didn’t reach 20 points by halftime.
Compared to Ohio State, the Tar Heels have been tested quite a bit.
The Buckeyes will be playing outside of Columbus, Ohio, for the first time this season, though they do own a convincing victory against Villanova. This marks Ohio State’s final game before a pair of Big Ten Conference matchups to open its league schedule.
North Carolina is 10-10 in ACC / Big Ten Challenge games, including 2-0 against the Buckeyes. This marks the 10th time North Carolina’s assigned opponent is in the Top 10 for the challenge series, and the 17th foe ranked in the Top 25.
Ohio State is 6-11 in the challenge series. This is the 12th time the Buckeyes go against a ranked opponent in the challenge.
North Carolina has been in the Top 10 for eight of the last 11 meetings with Ohio State.
The most-recent Buckeyes victory in the series came when a favored Ohio State team defeated North Carolina in the 1992 NCAA Tournament. North Carolina won two years ago in a pre-Christmas event in New Orleans.
Who: No. 6 Ohio State (7-0) vs. No. 7 North Carolina (6-1)
When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN)
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill
Series: North Carolina leads 12-2