The North Carolina Tar Heels travel north to Madison Square Garden for an important game against #23 Ohio State.
After their solid win over ranked Texas Tech in Maui over Thanksgiving, the Buckeyes have been in the top 25 for the last three weeks.
The return home to Chapel Hill was rejuvenating for UNC, but this neutral court game will test the Tar Heels.
Below are three things to watch during Carolina’s game in the CBS Sports Classic.
One of the biggest improvements during UNC’s two-game homestand was their passing. It was just visually different seeing their passing prowess during these games.
Against the Citadel, it was obvious that ball movement was a focus of recent practices. From the jump, the Tar Heels were making sharp passes. UNC assisted on 13 of their 14 first half field goals.
These 24 assists were the most since last year’s first round win over Marquette and would be the second-highest mark over the course of last season.
These passing efforts correlate with improved shot selection and field goal percentage.
UNC tallied their third and fourth-highest field goal percentages so far this season. Only the games versus College of Charleston and Portland were higher.
Ball movement will be put to the test against Ohio State if they impose their tempo against Carolina. The Buckeyes rank 249th in KenPom’s tempo ratings.
If the Tar Heels spend a lot of time in the half-court, they must continue to move the ball and not settle for jumpers after one pass.
Freshman Tyler Nickel’s breakout party was fun to watch. The true freshman scored from all spots on the floor, hit all three of his field goal attempts, and filled up the stat line with three rebounds, two steals, and an assist.
Depth off the bench will be critical for this team, so it will be interesting how many minutes he and Seth Trimble will get in the next few games.
After going five of eight from three against Portland, Pete Nance was just four of 17 over the previous five games.
Nance got back on track versus the Citadel with an efficient and effective three of four performance from beyond the arc.
Caleb Love was four of six from three against the Citadel, which was the most threes in a single game this season.
If these two shooters and freshmen continue with their hot streaks, it will be a big help against one of the best offenses in the country.
Ohio State’s 6’8” junior forward will create the most interesting matchups for Carolina.
Zed Key is Ohio State’s leading scorer and rebounder, tallying 14.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
But here is the key stat: Key is sixth in the nation in field goal percentage, knocking down over 70 percent of his shots.
Against the likes of St. Francis, Eastern Illinois, Charleston Southern, and Robert Morris, Key can be dominant in the paint.
However, he is undersized as a five in the Big Ten and may have problems against Armando Bacot.
This is the part where Key is dangerous. He can stretch the floor and score from outside the block and from the top of the lane. He has even hit a few threes this season.
Presumably, Nance has some experience with Key from his time at Northwestern.
It will be interesting to see how Carolina handles Key and how that will influence the other defensive matchups.