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Preview: No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels take on No. 18 Oregon Ducks in battle of unbeatens

The North Carolina Tar Heels face the Oregon Ducks on Thanksgiving in the opening game of the Phil Knight Invitational. Both teams are currently undefeated, making for a compelling non-conference matchup.

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - North Carolina v Virginia Tech
Alyssa Ustby (right) is currently leading UNC in both scoring and rebounding.
William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels (4-0) will take on the No. 18 Oregon Ducks (4-0) Thursday in the Phil Knight Invitational, putting their undefeated records on the line in a nationally-televised, non-conference meeting. The game will be broadcast on ESPN, with tip-off scheduled for 5 p.m. ET.

Neither the Tar Heels nor the Ducks have encountered much resistance thus far in the 2022-23 NCAA season. If their respective spots in the Associated Press Top 25 aren’t indication enough, North Carolina and Oregon have both outscored their opponents by over 45 points per 100 possessions (Her Hoop Stats), with Oregon’s offense (120.6 offensive rating) and North Carolina’s defense (64.2 defensive rating) ranking among the best in Division I.

It’s safe to say, then, that Thanksgiving’s matchup will be the first time this season either North Carolina or Oregon has truly been tested. Ducks head coach Kelly Graves said ahead of the game that his team is “going to have to play a lot better” than it did in its most recent game against Southern Utah (a 66-54 Ducks win) in order to beat the Tar Heels; Oregon got a combined 41 points from guards Te-Hina Paopao and Chance Gray and forward Grace VanSlooten, but was outrebounded 41-33, which Graves pointed to as a potential area of improvement.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Tennessee
Junior guard Te-Hina Paopao (12.8 points per game) is one of five players currently averaging double-figure scoring for the Oregon Ducks.
Photo by Donald Page/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

North Carolina, meanwhile, has been excellent on the glass, ranking No. 28 in the country in both offensive (41.3 percent) and defensive (77.8 percent) rebounding rate. Three of their forwards — Anya Poole, Alyssa Ustby and Destiny Adams — are averaging at least six rebounds per game, and they’ve been efficient with their scoring, too, each player shooting 66 percent or better from the field.

While the Tar Heels will likely have the advantage in the frontcourt based on size alone, they can further help their own cause by turning Oregon over. It will be easier said than done; North Carolina has held opponents to an eye-popping assist/turnover ratio of 0.36, but the Ducks have been excellent at taking care of the basketball, ranking No. 3 in Division I in assist/turnover ratio (1.81) and No. 2 in opponents steal rate (3.9 percent).

Will the Ducks’ talented offense keep humming along, or will the Tar Heels’ physical advantages in the frontcourt carry them to victory? The winner will move on in the invitational to face the winner of Michigan State vs. No. 5 Iowa State, which will tip-off on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET.