Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
9 p.m., ESPN-HD (Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale)
"[Daequan] Cook doesn't even start, yet he's the leading scorer. We recruited Daequan ... he's an outstanding scorer - extremely athletic, can take the ball to the basket and finish with authority; can really shoot the basketball. Gives them instant offense coming off the bench." -- Roy Williams
"North Carolina is a program that I looked at when I took this job in terms of how Dean Smith built that program back in the '60s." -- Thad Matta
"The depth they have at all of their positions and the pace they play at is obviously a challenge. ... In a lot of ways, you've got to pick your poison, and hope guys don't have a breakout night on you." -- Thad Matta
Top Ranked: Ohio State enters Saturday's game ranked No. 1 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and No. 3 in the Associated Press Poll. It's OSU's first No. 1 ranking since 1962. Thad Matta's Buckeyes are 6-0, winning their games by an average of 26.2 points, though the competition hasn't been too difficult -- VMI, Loyola-Chicago, Kent State, Eastern Kentucky, San Francisco and Youngstown State.
Newcomer Takeover: How does a Big Ten champion squad that loses four starters not miss a beat the following season? The answer for Thad Matta is recruiting. Five newcomers -- four freshmen and a JuCo transfer -- created one of the top recruiting classes in OSU history. With Greg Oden sidelined, the other four comprise half of the Buckeyes' eight-man rotation. Super-athletic wing Daequan Cook leads the team in scoring (17.8) and is second in rebounding (7.0), point guard Mike Conley is the leader in assists (6.3) and steals (3.2) , big man Othello Hunter is tops in rebounding (7.2) and blocked shots (1.8 bpg), while forward David Lighty as well as Conley have started all six games.
The Oden Factor: The best of the newcomers is Greg Oden, a 7-0 monster who is the best incoming freshman in the country. But he hasn't played a game yet, as a result of wrist surgery in the offseason. The rumor mill is buzzing that Oden could suit up against the Tar Heels, and Matta has not specifically denied the possibility in media interviews this week. However, when Roy Williams was asked Tuesday if he was certain Oden would not play Wednesday night, Williams replied "Oh, yeah. ... I spoke to Thad today and they're saying 'January.'"
Sharpshooters: The Buckeyes are shooting a blistering 42.3% on three point attempts this season, led by the trio of Daequan Cook (48%), Ron Lewis (47%) and Victor Harris (46%). On a squad top-heavy with perimeter scorers, OSU has shot on average just under 25 three-pointers per game. This is undoubtedly a concern for the UNC coaching staff, as the Tar Heel defense has allowed lesser opponents to shoot 39.4% on three-pointers thus far.
Floor Generals: OSU's starting duo of point guards Jamar Butler and Mike Conley aren't averaging double-digits in points, but their impact is made moreso as playmakers and defenders. The two combine to average 12.0 assists and 4.8 steals per game. Also impressive is their combined 2.5 assist-to-turnover range.
Series History: North Carolina is 7-2 in the all-time series with Ohio State. The two teams have met four times in the NCAA Tournament, with the Tar Heels winning three of those matchups. The last meeting between UNC and OSU was an 81-68 Carolina win on Dec. 18, 1993 in Chapel Hill.
Background Location: Columbus, Ohio Enrollment: 47,952 Conference: Big Ten Nickname: Buckeyes Colors: Scarlet & Gray Head Coach: Thad Matta Record at OSU: 52-18 (3rd year) Last Year: 26-6 (12-4, 1st)
Projected Starters: 1 Mike Conley (6-1, 180, Fr.) – 16.5 ppg, 2.3 apg 14 Jamar Butler (6-2, 205, Jr.) – 9.0 ppg, 2.8 apg 12 Ron Lewis (6-4, 200, Sr.) - 17.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg 23 David Lighty (6-5, 220, Fr.) - 8.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg 45 Othello Hunter (6-9, 225, Jr.) – 7.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg Key Reserves: 31 Daequan Cook (6-5, 210, Fr.) – 17.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg 3 Ivan Harris (6-7, 220, Sr.) – 11.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg 42 Matt Terwilliger (6-8, 250, Jr.) – 5.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Cook ....... Lewis
Harris ....... Butler
Hunter ....... Conley
(Photos courtesy AP)