North Carolina has yet to be challenged this season, certainly living up to its billing as the top-ranked team in the nation.
After the next seven days, Rutgers will be in better position to compare the Tar Heels to the two teams ranked directly below them.
The Scarlet Knights begin what seems to be an unprecedented week against the three top teams in the country when they visit Chapel Hill to face the Tar Heels on Sunday.
After Rutgers (9-3) plays at top-ranked North Carolina, it hosts No. 3 Pittsburgh on Wednesday and travels to face No. 2 Connecticut Saturday. There doesn’t seem to be a comparable seven-day stretch in the history of college basketball.
“Certainly this is a very, very unique situation,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. “We’re aware of what’s coming up.”
North Carolina (11-0) has won 37 straight regular-season games against non-conference opponents. The Tar Heels are second in the nation with 95.6 points per game, and have an average victory margin of 27.1 points.
They have won all 11 games by double digits, tying a school record set by the 1992-93 NCAA championship team. Another such victory Sunday would establish a new school mark for consecutive double-digit wins.
The Scarlet Knights are 0-10 all-time against the No. 1 team in the nation, and have lost their last eight meetings with the Tar Heels. North Carolina has posted blowouts over Rutgers in each of the last two seasons, winning 87-48 at home on Dec. 28, 2006 and building a 21-point halftime lead in a 83-71 road victory on Dec. 16, 2007.
Tyler Hansbrough had 20 points and 11 rebounds in last season’s meeting, and the reigning Naismith Award winner is averaging a team-high 22.7 points this season despite missing four games with a shin injury.
Hansbrough shook off a slow start and finished with 25 points on Dec. 20 in North Carolina’s last game, an 85-63 win over Valparaiso. He took nearly nine minutes to get his first basket.
“I was just moving better,” Hansbrough said. “I wasn’t trying to force it early. I kept moving and eventually I got to spots and got the ball and made some shots.”
One area in which the Tar Heels hope to improve is their 3-point shooting. They shot a season-low 29.6 percent (8-of-27) against Valparaiso.
Not only is Rutgers getting ready to start this grueling stretch, but it will face the best team in college basketball one game after playing what is likely the worst team. The Scarlet Knights enter off a fourth straight win Tuesday, 78-52 over the New Jersey Institute of Technology - the Highlanders’ 44th loss in a row.
Rutgers suffered home losses earlier this season to Lehigh and Binghamton, but has gained confidence from the winning streak heading into Chapel Hill.
“There’s a lot of motivation for us,” said guard Mike Rosario. “Not many teams get a chance to go up against the No. 1 team in the country. This is a big test for us.”
Rosario, a freshman McDonald’s All-American, is the only Scarlet Knight to average double figures with 16.8 points per game.