Barely tested and hardly challenged.
That’s been the story for No. 1 North Carolina thus far, and it’s unlikely to change Wednesday on the road against a young Nevada team.
The unanimous top-ranked team in the AP Top 25 since it was released in the preseason, the Tar Heels (12-0) have overwhelmed every opponent with an offense that at times hasn’t completely clicked. Still, North Carolina is first in Division I with 20.8 assists per game, second in scoring (95.8 ppg) and fifth in field-goal shooting (51.1 percent).
The Tar Heels have set a school record by winning each game by at least 15 points, they’ve been held under 80 points just once and scored 100 or more on four occasions.
They’ve played six of their games on the road or at neutral sites, highlighted by winning the Maui Invitational in November, and in their two games against ranked opponents—current top 10 teams Notre Dame and Michigan State— they won by a combined 50 points.
Despite struggling from 3-point range for the second straight game Sunday, North Carolina had little trouble in rolling past Rutgers 97-75. Tyler Hansbrough had 26 points and 10 rebounds as the Tar Heels shot 51.5 percent overall, but a season-worst 28.6 percent from beyond the arc while matching a season low with four 3s made.
“Sometimes in practice, we make every shot,” said coach Roy Williams, whose Tar Heels were coming off an 8-of-27 effort from 3-point range in a Dec. 20 win over Valparaiso. “We’re going to have some nights where we shoot it better, and some nights where we’ll defend better and still do the job about getting them to turn it over and getting on the backboards like we did tonight.”
Hansbrough collected his 1,000th rebound, and Marcus Ginyard made his season debut after being sidelined due to foot surgery. The senior finished with four points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists in 11 minutes.
“I’m just trying to work my way back into it,” said Ginyard, who averaged 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds last season. “Got a little tired out there, but hopefully that will come as I get more involved out there.”
If this game was played two seasons ago, when the Wolf Pack had college standouts Nick Fazekas and Marcellus Kemp as well as current NBA point guard Ramon Sessions en route to a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the game more likely would have been a challenge for North Carolina.
But Nevada (7-5), currently starting two sophomores and two freshmen, is building a new identity around a pair of local Reno players - WAC coaches’ preseason player of the year Armon Johnson and freshman forward Luke Babbitt.
On Saturday, it was Babbitt picking up the slack for Johnson, a sophomore guard averaging a team-high 15.0 points. Johnson went 3-for-12 from the field and matched a season low with six points, but Babbitt had 16 while hitting all eight of his free throws as the Wolf Pack held off Idaho State 68-63 despite shooting 37.5 percent from the field.
“Our shot selection was poor,” Wolf Pack coach Mark Fox said. “We were untrusting of each other in the first half, not selfish per se, but untrusting of each other. We were lucky that we won when we didn’t play well.”
The 6-foot-9 Babbitt, who likely will draw the unenviable task of trying to slow Hansbrough, has scored in double figures in all but one game and is averaging 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds.
North Carolina had little trouble with Nevada last season in a 106-70 win at the Smith Center to improve to 3-0 in the all-time series. Hansbrough had 26 points, Wayne Ellington added 23 off the bench and Ty Lawson had 16 and 10 assists.