North Carolina is well-rested and coming off another easy victory over a ranked team. The Tar Heels, though, may not want to look past their next opponent.
Top-ranked North Carolina returns from a nine-day layoff on Saturday when it hosts Oral Roberts, which is just two years removed from posting a road upset over a top 3 team.
The Tar Heels improved to 8-0 on the season with a 98-63 victory over then-No. 13 Michigan State as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3. That win came one week after they defeated then-No. 8 Notre Dame 102-87 in the championship game of the Maui Invitational.
Tyler Hansbrough played in just his fourth game of the season due to a stress reaction in his right shin, and had 25 points and 11 rebounds against Michigan State after sitting out a 116-48 win over UNC-Asheville on Nov. 30 for precautionary reasons.
“I knew he was going to play,” said North Carolina’s Ty Lawson, who added 17 points, eight assists and a career-high seven steals against the Spartans. “He’s never going to sit out of a big game.”
Hansbrough, the reigning national player of the year, is averaging 22.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in a career-low 25.3 minutes per game. He’s been able to spend time on the bench because North Carolina has yet to be challenged this season.
The Tar Heels are second in the nation with 97.0 points per game and are holding opponents to 66.6. They’ve won each of their games by at least 15 points.
With Hansbrough appearing in only half of North Carolina’s games, Lawson has stepped up his play. The junior point guard is averaging career highs of 16.1 points, 6.9 assists and 3.0 steals, and leads the nation with a 6.11-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Tar Heels have five players scoring in double figures and are shooting 51.4 percent from the field, including 41.1 from 3-point range.
“They’re definitely one of the best teams I’ve seen in my 25 years at Michigan State,” Tom Izzo said.
Oral Roberts now gets a chance to play spoiler again.
The Golden Eagles won 78-61 at then-No. 3 Kansas on Nov. 15, 2006, but only one player who appeared in that game is still on the roster, and the team is struggling after being picked as the preseason favorite in the Summit League.
Oral Roberts is 2-6, with only one of those wins coming against a Division I team, and is coming off a terrible loss. The Golden Eagles were shut out over the final 4 minutes in falling 69-66 at home to Arkansas-Little Rock on Monday night.
Robert Jarvis, who leads the Golden Eagles with 18.4 points per game, was held to only six and missed two potential tying shots in the last 26 seconds, including a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left.
North Carolina has won all three meetings with Oral Roberts, including 87-65 in the last matchup on Dec. 8, 1984. This is the first game against a No. 1 team for the Golden Eagles, who are 8-44 all-time versus ranked opponents.