KenPom ranking: No. 45 out of 351
Last game: Ohio State did what it was supposed to do and handled The Citadel with ease Tuesday night, winning 94-65 at home. Four players scored in double-digits for the Buckeyes, including forward Keita Bates-Diop and guard Kam Williams, both of whom went for 17.
Ohio State made 61.5 percent of its two-point field goal attempts (24-39) and forced 16 turnovers on defense.
Best win: Ohio State has already played a pair of conference games because the Big Ten was willing to move up its conference slate in order to hold its upcoming conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. The Buckeyes won both of those contests, and while their 25-point triumph on the road at Wisconsin was impressive, a 71-62 win at home against rival Michigan on Dec. 4 stands out because of the way it was earned.
Outplayed for much of the first half, Ohio State trailed by as many as 20 points, and then totally outplayed Michigan in the second half to erase a 13-point halftime deficit. The Buckeyes held Michigan to just 5-29 shooting from the field in the second half, and Bates-Diop scored a team-high 18 points while also getting nine rebounds.
Last head-to-head matchup: UNC defeated Ohio State at the United Center in Chicago on Dec. 20, 2014, as Brice Johnson scored 18 points in an 82-74 victory. Defensively, the Tar Heels held Ohio State to 34.7 percent shooting, and limited D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, to 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field.
Player to watch for: Keita Bates-Diop
The 2016-17 season was an injury-filled one for Bates-Diop, who appeared in only nine games and missed the majority of the year because of a stress fracture in his left leg.
But up to this point, he’s had a nice bounce back campaign. When on the floor, he’s taken 28.5 percent of his team’s shots, but has remained efficient at the same time. With a 6-foot-7, 235-pound frame, Bates-Diop is a hybrid player of sorts. Despite his size, he’s a very good 3-point shooter (42.9 percent), but can also create his own shot off the dribble. Within the 3-point line, Bates-Diop’s midrange game is solid, and he’s also capable of scoring with his back to the basket.
His 18.2 points per game are a team-best, and UNC will probably turn to Theo Pinson and/or Luke Maye to try to contain him.
Head coach spotlight: Chris Holtmann is in his first season as the man in charge of the Buckeyes after previously serving as the head coach at Butler from 2014-17.
His appointment in Columbus was a bit unusual, if only for the timing. His predecessor, Thad Matta, was let go after 13 seasons in June, much later in the calendar compared to most coaching changes. Shortly after, Holtmann was brought in.
During his time at Butler, Holtmann went 70-31, got the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament each year and guided his team to the Sweet 16 as a No. 4 seed last season before losing to UNC. He previously spent three years as head coach at Gardner-Webb, where he improved the Bulldogs’ win total each season, and went 21-13 in his final year.
Heading into the season, Ohio State was projected to finish 11th in the 14-team Big Ten in a preseason media poll conducted by The Columbus Dispatch and The Athletic, but the early returns on Holtmann’s group suggest it might do better than that.
Biggest strength: Compared Matta’s final year, Ohio State has improved considerably on the defensive end of the court through the early stages of this season. The Buckeyes have made their hay by limiting second-chance scoring opportunities and playing smart team defense.
Per Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, Ohio State has allowed offensive rebounds on only 24 percent of missed shots (26th nationally), and its opponents’ free throw rate ranks No. 320 nationally.
As a result, Ohio State ranks 46th in the country in opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency.
Biggest weakness: Ohio State is rather pedestrian at shooting from the outside, which could hurt the Buckeyes should UNC find a way to contain Bates-Diop and first-year forward Kaleb Wesson (12.3 points per game, 58.8 field goal percentage), who have both been effective at scoring close to the basket.
The Buckeyes are making 35.5 percent of their 3-pointers, 167th nationally. The duo of Bates-Diop and guard C.J. Jackson have made 52 of 124 3-point shots (41.9 percent), but the rest of the team has converted on only 41 of 138 3-pointers (29.7 percent).
Considering UNC allowed Wofford big man Cameron Jackson to go for 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field, Ohio State may well find life easy in the paint against UNC. But if the Tar Heels can tighten up near the basket, the Buckeyes’ outside shooting woes could prove to be detrimental.