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November 29, 2006

Game of the Week: Ohio State vs. North Carolina

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The hype began as soon as the ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchups were announced in May. Two of the teams college basketball fans wanted to see meet most were going to meet on the court.

No. 3 Ohio State (6-0) is paired up with seventh-ranked North Carolina (4-1) for a showdown in Chapel Hill on Wednesday night in Rivals.com's Game of the Week.

Both programs had just put the finishing touches on the nation's top two recruiting classes. They combined to land four top-10 prospects, two others that reached five-star status and three more that were ranked among the top 100.

The meeting offers a chance to see some of the top freshmen players who would have skipped college if it hadn't been for the NBA's new age limit go head-to-head.

No matchup was more anticipated than Ohio State's 7-foot phenom Greg Oden versus UNC's Tyler Hansbrough. Oden, the consensus overall No. 1 prospect in the 2006 class, would take on the consensus 2005-06 National Freshman of the Year.

Could the next great big man hang with one of the best in college basketball? How would Oden perform in his first big game?

Unfortunately, we won't get to find out this week.

Oden had offseason surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right wrist and remains in recovery mode. He was projected to return on Jan. 1, but it could be sooner.

The Buckeyes have raced out to an impressive start without their future star, winning by an average of 26.1 points per game. That said, Ohio State hasn't faced anyone of the Tar Heels' caliber or size yet.

Hansbrough heads up a deep frontcourt, which also features a new freshman phenom - 6-foot-9 Brandan Wright. With 6-9 Othello Hunter being OSU's only true post player, the Tar Heels are likely to see plenty of zone defense.

The Buckeyes can create some mismatches in the backcourt, where they start two true point guards. Freshman Mike Conley and junior Jamar Butler are combining to average 11 assists per game.

We break down all the head-to-head battles and reveal who has the edge at each position.

Rivals.com Game of the Week: No. 3 Ohio State (6-0) vs. No. 7 North Carolina (4-1)
Othello Hunter vs. Tyler Hansbrough
The Buckeyes aren't looking to win this matchup, they just don't want to get dominated. Hansbrough (20.6 ppg) has a tendency to do that with his strength and ferocity on the inside, particularly against teams with weak frontcourts. Gonzaga exposed some of Hansbrough's weaknesses in its 82-74 upset of the Tar Heels last week, especially his inability to pass out of double teams. Hunter (6-9, 225), a junior college transfer, doesn't possesses the size of Gonzaga center Josh Heytvelt (6-11, 240). Plus, with 7-foot center Greg Oden out, Hunter (7.7 ppg) can't be too aggressive. He's OSU's only interior threat and must stay out of foul trouble so they don't get crushed on the boards.
Edge: North Carolina.
David Lighty vs. Brandan Wright
These two freshmen create the biggest mismatch on the floor. Lighty (6-5, 225) gives up four inches to Wright (6-9, 205), but it's really more like six or seven because of Wright's tremendous wingspan and extraordinary shot blocking ability. The Buckeyes will likely try and hide that size disadvantage by going to a zone and having Lighty (8.3 ppg) and other Buckeye forwards operate more on the perimeter. A versatile player who can impact several areas, Lighty needs to keep Wright away from the basket. Wright lately has been doing a great job getting to the basket. He has averaged 20.3 points in his last three games.
Edge: North Carolina.
Ron Lewis vs. Reyshawn Terry
Terry's defensive abilities will be put to the test against Lewis (6-4, 195), who transferred from Bowling Green three seasons ago. The offensive-minded Lewis (17.0 ppg) has been the Buckeyes' most reliable scoring threat, finishing in double figures in all six games. He's also hitting 47 percent (17-of-36) of his 3-point attempts. Terry (6-8, 230) averaged 14.3 points per game last season, but the senior has slipped into a less prominent role. Terry's combination of size, versatility and - most importantly - experience should prove valuable in such a big-time atmosphere.
Edge: Ohio State.
Mike Conley Jr. vs. Wayne Ellington
These two freshmen are very familiar with one another, having played on the same team at the McDonald's All-American game on Mar. 29. However, they aren't used to guarding one another. The muscular Conley (6-1, 175) is a pass-first point guard with a high basketball I.Q. He's averaging a team-high 6.3 assists per game. Ellington (6-4, 195) is known for being an extremely fluid athlete. He operates almost exclusively on the wing and has a scorer's mentality. Ellington uses a variety of moves to attack the basket and will shoot the ball from almost anywhere. Both guards will be counted on to provide an offensive spark, but cutting down on turnovers and mental mistakes could be the key. Obviously, neither has played in a game of this magnitude.
Edge: Ohio State.
Jamar Butler vs. Bobby Frasor
Expect Butler (6-2, 200) to have the ball in his hands quite a bit. Coaches tend to lean on their best decision-makers in games like this, and the junior is one of the best in the Big Ten. He rarely makes bad choices, posting a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in each of his first two seasons. Frasor is more of a shooting guard. He moved to point last season because of lack of depth at the position. The 6-3, 210-pound sophomore is a streaky shooter who is dangerous around the 3-point line.
Edge: Ohio State.
Ohio State bench vs. UNC bench
The Tar Heels have a slightly deeper bench, but the Buckeyes have a much better sixth man. Freshman wing Daequan Cook (pictured) leads the team in scoring (17.8 ppg) and ranks second in rebounding (7.0 rpg) despite not having started a game. Extremely explosive, the 6-5, 210-pounder possesses a smooth jumper and NBA 3-point range. Following Cook off the bench are two of the best reserves in the Big Ten, veteran forwards Ivan Harris (11.3 ppg) and Matt Terwilliger (5.3 ppg). The Tar Heels have a difference-maker in point guard Tywon Lawson (pictured), who is one of the fastest players in college basketball. Versatile wing Danny Green and 3-point specialist Wes Miller give Roy Williams some options. Freshman big men Alex Stepheson (6-9, 225) and Deon Thompson (6-8, 245) add frontcourt depth.
Edge: Ohio State.
Coaching Matchup
Few coaches have risen up the ranks higher or have more momentum than Ohio State's Thad Matta, who holds a career record of 154-49 (.758 winning percentage). Just six seasons ago, Matta was entering his first head coaching job at Butler. He was at Xavier the following year and at Ohio State by 2004. Matta has been assembling a gaudy amount of talent since. Seven recruits that have reached five or four-star status from the class of 2007 and 2008 have committed to the Buckeyes. For the Tar Heels, few coaches have been as successful as Roy Williams - who has assembled a 497-125 (.799 winning percentage). The former Kansas head man seems to be at his peak entering his 19th year as a head coach. After capturing his first national title in 2004-05, he won ACC Coach of the Year honors last season by directing a team that lost all its starters and more than 90 percent of its scoring to 23 wins and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Edge: North Carolina.

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