UNC Basketball: Jumpman Invitational: Oklahoma Preview

The UNC Basketball program is coming off back-to-back losses against Connecticut and Kentucky and looking for a bounce-back win against No. 7 Oklahoma.

Jimmy V Classic - Connecticut v North Carolina
Jimmy V Classic - Connecticut v North Carolina / Rich Schultz/GettyImages
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Following back-to-back losses to Connecticut and Kentucky, both among the most talented programs in the country, the road does not get any easier for the UNC Basketball program as No. 7 and undefeated Oklahoma Sooners await the Tar Heels in Charlotte for another neutral site contest. This has been one of the most challenging stretches in UNC Basketball HISTORY, as this is the first time the Tar Heels have ever played five AP-Top 25 teams in a six-game stretch.

It will be the final game before the Christmas Holiday break, and the Tar Heels would love to come away with a victory following the losses to the Huskies and Wildcats, both at neutral sites. North Carolina will be participating in the Jumpman Invitational for the second consecutive season. Last season, the Tar Heels came away with an 80-76 victory versus the Michigan Wolverines.

UNC -2.5. 9:00 PM ET. 10-0. 464. Wednesday, Dec 20. UNC MBB vs Oklahoma. 7-3. 441. ESPN

Oklahoma is undefeated, and for good reason, they are very talented. While they haven't had the gauntlet of a schedule that North Carolina has faced, the Sooners have played some quality competition, including showing a common opponent with the Tar Heels versus Arkansas. The Sooners beat the Razorbacks 79-70 on a neutral floor.

Unlike in Atlanta in the CBS Sports Classic, it is safe to say we can expect a more pro-Tar Heel crowd on Wednesday night versus the Sooners. The opener for Wednesday night will be the women's programs from Florida and Michigan, which is scheduled to tip off at 6:30 PM on ESPN2 before the Sooners and Tar Heels follow to close out the two-day event.

Key to Victory for North Carolina

When we look at the stats for each team, they seem evenly matched. Oklahoma averages 84.4 points per game, while North Carolina averages 84.9 points per game. On the boards, the Sooners bring in 39.7 rebounds per game, while the Tar Heels average 38.2 rebounds per game. It doesn't stop there either; assists are just as close, with the Sooners at 15 per game and Tar Heels at 14.3 per game.

We're going with the most obvious key to victory, and it is what they were unable to do against in the four-point loss to Kentucky: REBOUNDING. Oklahoma is in the top 20 in the country in rebounding margin, winning the battle on the boards by an average of 10 rebounds per game. The Tar Heels? No. 128 in the nation, with just a plus-three margin.

Securing rebounds and limiting second-chance opportunities will be crucial against a team that has proven it can win and is one of just four teams in the country remaining undefeated. In the latest two games against UConn and Kentucky, the Tar Heels dug themselves into a deficit early in the game and spent the rest of the game fighting back, but not having enough to get over the hump.

Against Kentucky, North Carolina trailed by double digits by 10, 10, and 12 points three different times and each time spent all of their energy clawing back, just to get close and have the lead stretched back out each time. Avoiding being hit with an early punch and instead throwing the first punch could provide a spark this team, similar to the Tennessee game, needs to win this one.

Something to Watch For

Needless to say, this is expected to be a tightly contested contest on paper. Once again, the Tar Heels will be dealing with size and talent at the guard position. Oklahoma's leading scorer is Otega Oweh, who averages 14.9 points per game and stands at six-foot-five. The smallest guard on Oklahoma's roster is Javian McCollum, who is six-foot-two and the second-leading scorer on the team with 14.3 points per game.

Handling the size and athleticism against Kentucky proved to be a problem in Atlanta last weekend. How will the Tar Heels handle the size differential when they start two guards who are six-foot-one and six-foot, respectively? This was a huge question mark surrounding the team going into the season, and in the three losses, size (or lack thereof) has proved costly.

Last Meeting

The UNC Basketball program has matched up with the Oklahoma Sooners a total of three times, with the most recent matchup coming in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. The other two matchups were in 1982 and 1990. The 1982 matchup came in late December, a few months following the Tar Heels National Championship in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Tar Heels won that matchup 77-69.

In 1990, an eight-seed North Carolina team matched up with No. 1 seed Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels upset the top-seed Sooners 79-77 with a buzzer-beating shot from Rick Fox to advance to the Sweet 16 before being eliminated by the Arkansas Razorbacks.

That most recent matchup in 2009 came in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in Memphis, Tennessee. The head coach of the Sooners? Current Pittsburgh Head Coach Jeff Capel. The Tar Heels were the No. 1 seed in the region, and it was a game the Sooners tried to make a one-on-one battle between Blake Griffin and Tyler Hansbrough.

Griffin may have won the individual matchup with Hansbrough displaying a 23-point, 16-rebound stat line to Tyler's eight-point, six-rebound performance, but the Tar Heels were the better team and put that on display in Memphis that night. Three Tar Heels scored in double figures, led by Ty Lawson and Danny Green with 19 and 18 points respectively, en route to a 72-60 victory to advance to the Final Four before eventually winning the National Championship.

Deon Thompson also contributed 10 points, and the Tar Heels got another nine points from Wayne Ellington. While only one other Sooner, Willie Warren, next to Griffin, was able to cross the double-digit scoring threshold with 18 points, but needed 16 shots to get them.

Give credit to the Sooners, as they were the only team to play the Tar Heels that close during that 2009 tournament run in which North Carolina's average margin of victory was 20.16 points per game.

Projected Starters

No. 2 Elliot Cadeau (Fr. 6-1, 180) 6.7 ppg, 1.5 rbpg, 4.0 apg

No. 3 Cormac Ryan (Sr. 6-5, 195) 11.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.6 apg

No. 4 RJ Davis (Sr. 6-0, 180) 21.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.8 apg

No. 5 Armando Bacot (Gr. 6-11, 240) 15.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 1.3 apg

No. 55 Harrison Ingram (Jr. 6-7, 235) 14.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.6 apg

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