We get a hot Oklahoma squad taking on North Carolina in the Jumpman Invitational; will the Tar Heels get back on track with a win or can the Sooners continue their unbeaten start to the season?
TV schedule: Wednesday, December 20, 9:00 pm ET. ESPN
Arena: Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina
After major disappointment last season, North Carolina (7-3) is looking to avoid that same kind of slippery slope, now losers of back-to-back games. The first ten games of this season have been very productive, with a third place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis and a nice win over Tennessee, though December has seen losses to tough UConn and Kentucky squads.
The Tar Heels have gotten great play from their two veterans, namely RJ Davis (21.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg), an athletic and explosive guard, and Armando Bacot (15.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg) one of the nation’s best rebounders. The new faces in the lineup have played a major part of North Carolina’s turnaround, including freshman Elliot Cadeau (6.7 ppg, 4.0 apg). They’ve gotten great contributions from other pieces, including a 20-point game from Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan (11.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg) in their loss to the Wildcats.
North Carolina slid down to #11 in the most recent AP Top 25 and sit just 20th on KenPom. The offense has been fantastic and sits inside the Top 10 in the efficiency ratings, though the defense has let the Tar Heels down at times. They did score 100 against a stout Tennessee squad but gave up 87 apiece in these last two losses, getting owned in the interior recently as well.
On the flip side, Oklahoma (10-0) has seen everything go their way through a month and a half of this college basketball season. Porter Moser’s team hasn’t faced a murderer’s row (they’ll get that in conference play), but they’ve passed their early tests, with nice wins over USC and Arkansas and double-digit victories against Iowa and Providence.
The play of sophomore guard Otega Oweh (14.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg) has been a big reason for the Sooners’ surprise success. Fellow backcourt menace Javian McCollum (14.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) has been a solid ball distributor and led the team with 20 points in their win over Arkansas just over a week ago. In the frontcourt, watch out for John Hugley (10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg), who’s playing more like his old self after transferring from Pittsburgh.
Their unbeaten start has Oklahoma all the way up to #7 in the AP Top 25. The Sooners are just 19th in KenPom’s ratings, though their defensive efficiency ranks Top 10 nationally. Though they’ve yet to beat a top-level team this season, the Sooners have looked great for the most part, including dominant defensive efforts against teams like Providence.
On one hand you have North Carolina, who have played a long series of high-impact games, dropping the most recent two. Then there’s Oklahoma, who have won a litany of games against fellow power conference teams, but haven’t seen an opponent among the current Top 25 in the nation. We’re also seeing a reformed and elite defense from the Sooners matching up against one of the top offenses in the nation.
Look for the Tar Heels to get back on track, especially in what feels like a home game in Charlotte. The Sooners haven’t seen an offense like this and Bacot should feast on the board. Oklahoma isn’t 10-0 by some fluke and will put up another significant challenge for North Carolina, but we’re expecting a close battle with someone like Davis having that clutch moment for the Tar Heels in the final minutes.
Prediction: North Carolina 80, Oklahoma 77