COLUMBUS - Whippet-quick point guard Ty Lawson may not be able to play when top-ranked North Carolina plays Ohio State tonight in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
No matter, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. It's not one individual who makes the Tar Heels so good.
"The great thing about North Carolina, you know they're going to do what they do," Matta said. "They've got a little bit of the Green Bay Packers in them - this is who we are, here we come, stop us."
In a rematch of a marquee game from a year ago, the Tar Heels have a decided upper hand this time around: more experience, more depth, center Tyler Hansbrough and a full complement of other weapons.
But they may not have Lawson, the guy who directs traffic in the Tar Heels' up-tempo attack and fronts their pressure defense. He's hobbled by an ankle injury.
"He did not practice yesterday. I haven't seen him yet today," coach Roy Williams said. "He's listed on the practice plan as 'limited.' That's wishful thinking, I think, on my part. But I don't know if it's false. We talked yesterday and I told him I would hope he'd be able to do some things today and if he did some things today I could see him playing in the game. I really won't know anything until after he practices and see how he handles it."
Ohio State's players figure Lawson will be on the court.
"Yeah. He's playing," Buckeyes point guard Jamar Butler said with a smirk. "He'll be playing."
If Lawson cannot play, Bobby Frasor would start, backed by Quentin Thomas.
"Ty gives you such a threat with his ability to push the ball and get it to the rim and finish plays, a much faster pace than Bobby and Q," Williams said. "Bobby's been sensational defensively. He shoots the ball from the outside. Q is really good in the open court, but not at the same pace as Ty. It definitely changes our team."
While Williams is concerned about his point guard, Matta is worried about stopping the Tar Heels' big man, Hansbrough.
The 6-foot-9 junior is averaging 23 points a game, which puts him on pace for the ninth-best season scoring average in North Carolina's star-studded history.
A year ago, before Ohio State's super freshman Greg Oden had begun to play after surgery on his wrist, Hansbrough tortured the Buckeyes inside in the Heels' 98-89 win. He had 21 points and 14 rebounds and had his way with a number of defenders.
Now Oden, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft last summer, is gone. The Buckeyes (4-1) start another 7-foot freshman with a spectacular future, Kosta Koufos, who will be backed by two of the same players who Hansbrough had his way against a year ago, Othello Hunter and Matt Terwilliger.
Matta believes that defending Hansbrough takes more than one man.
"One of the biggest challenges is you've got to collectively guard them," he said. "All five guys have to be attached physically and mentally to what we're trying to do and honestly what they're trying to do. They have a lot of weapons, obviously, from the low-post game to the outside shooting. When you're playing a great team, you have to take away as much as you possibly can. That's got to be where our focus is."
Ohio State is still trying to find its footing after losing five of its top six scorers from a year ago, including two other freshmen who joined Oden in the first round of the draft.
"That's the main thing, we don't have the same team and they pretty much do," Butler said of the rematch. "It's going to be a tough battle for us."