The first game of Saturday's loaded doubleheader at Madison Square Garden looks like it could live up to the billing as No. 23 Ohio State takes on North Carolina in the the ninth annual CBS Sports Classic. Preseason No. 1 UNC has slid out of the rankings after taking four losses in its last six games, including a four-game skid to end November and open part of December, so the odds here are ever-so-slightly in favor of Ohio State in this one.
For Ohio State, this is a matchup it can win but it will not be able to do so without an intense fight. The Buckeyes have an elite offense to counter UNC's own prolific scoring attack, but UNC has enough size, skill and experience to not go quietly. We should be in for quite a treat.
It's been a bumpy road for UNC early in the season. No one thought the preseason top-ranked Tar Heels would be 7-4 coming into the CBS Sports Classic and unranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls. They're exactly that. And yet, UNC -- finally -- of late is showing signs of life as its team comes together. It now has a top-10 offense in adjusted efficiency at KenPom, it is taking care of the ball much better of late and -- most importantly -- its stars are playing like stars. Big man Armando Bacot has had a double-double in each of his last four outings; Caleb Love's 34-point explosion vs. Alabama in late-November seems to have boosted his confidence; and R.J. Davis has improved as a scorer, distributor and talent-elevator for those around him.
Talent on the Ohio State roster was not and has never really been a question so long as Chris Holtmann has been in Columbus. But the leaders on this team in production a little over a month into the season have been something of a surprise. Zed Key was the fourth-leading scorer a season ago and now leads the Buckeyes in that category at 14.3 points per game. Not a huge surprise after earning starter minutes most of last season and averaging 7.8 points per game on the year. Brice Sensabaugh's breakout is the real surprise here. He was a four-star recruit ranked well outside the top 50 nationally and has blossomed into a possible one-and-done candidate. Sensabaugh is second on the team averaging 14.1 points per game and has been -- by far -- the team's most consistent outside scoring threat.
How to watch UNC vs. Ohio State live
UNC vs. Ohio State prediction, picks
This is a pretty even matchup on paper but I like the Tar Heels by a smidge. Armando Bacot's size in the paint and production on the glass is going to give Ohio State fits. The Buckeyes don't really have someone in the post who can slow him. If UNC does what it should do -- which is feed Bacot and attack in the paint -- then I think the preseason No. 1 Tar Heels can squeak this out in a close one. Prediction: UNC Pick'em
Who will win and cover in every college basketball game? Visit SportsLine to get picks from the model that simulates each game 10,000 times and is up more than $1,200 for $100 players on its top-rated spread picks the past six years.