North Carolina knows that as the nation’s top-ranked team it’s likely to get the best effort from every opponent it faces. But its next opponent might have a little extra motivation.
The Tar Heels (16-0, 1-0 ACC) look to remain one of five unbeaten teams in the nation on Saturday when they open their conference home schedule against North Carolina State.
The Wolfpack and Tar Heels have faced each other 211 times in their history, dating to 1913, with North Carolina holding a 136-75 edge. The Tar Heels have dominated the series lately, winning eight of the past nine.
But N.C. State has a history of playing well against some outstanding Tar Heel teams. They beat top-ranked North Carolina squads in 1995 and 1998, and won again last season when the Tar Heels were ranked third in the country.
“I feel like we have enough talent and enough experience to come away with a win,” said N.C. State forward Brandon Costner. “I think we have played enough teams that trap and press and are fast like they are.”
The Wolfpack may have a difficult time keeping up. North Carolina averages 92.1 points - second-most in the country - while N.C. State is 11th in the ACC in scoring at 67.3 points per contest.
The Tar Heels are led by preseason All-American Tyler Hansbrough, who leads the conference in scoring (21.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.8 per game). He has scored in double figures in every game this season and has seven double-doubles.
Hansbrough is averaging 19.2 points in five games against N.C. State.
He had a team-high 23 points and eight rebounds in North Carolina’s 93-81 win over UNC Asheville on Wednesday. But coach Roy Williams was concerned with what lies ahead for the Tar Heels.
“The nonconference schedule’s over with now - congratulations,” Williams said. “Now we’ve got 15 straight (ACC) games where we’ve got to raise the level of our play.”
Williams missed a news conference after cutting his scalp Friday when he tripped over a cord in his office and hit his head on a door. He’s still expected to be on the sideline.
Though Hansbrough is universally acknowledge as the team’s offensive leader, North Carolina has plenty of other scoring options.
Sophomore guard Wayne Ellington is averaging 18.1 points, and had a career-high 36 - including the game-winning 3-pointer - in the Tar Heels’ 90-88 overtime win at Clemson in their conference opener on Sunday.
Another sophomore, Ty Lawson, is the team’s floor general. The point guard scores 13.5 ppg and averages 5.7 assists, and after averaging 3.75 turnovers in his previous four games, committed none against UNC Asheville.
“That’s a big emphasis coach had,” Lawson said. “Against Clemson we made turnovers that weren’t forced so that was one of thing we wanted to look at.”
The Wolfpack (11-3, 0-0) have won seven straight since back-to-back losses at then-No. 10 Michigan State and East Carolina.
They beat North Carolina Central 54-29 on Wednesday, the lowest point total to which they’ve held an opponent since a 57-28 win against Winthrop in 1996.
There are injury issues for N.C. State as they try to take down a No. 1 team for the first time since beating Duke on Feb. 15, 2004. Starting point guard Farnold Degand is out for the season after injuring his knee on Dec. 23, and forward Dennis Horner has missed two games with a high ankle sprain. His status against North Carolina remains uncertain.
Freshman J.J. Hickson has been the Wolfpack’s best player. He’s averaging team highs of 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds, and is shooting 70.2 percent from the field - the second-highest percentage in the nation.