Kentucky travels to North Carolina

by Dennis Berry
(Harrodsburg, Ky)

On Saturday afternoon two of the most storied programs in college basketball meet again in Chapel Hill, North Carolina . The University of Kentucky Wildcats (#10 AP/#11 Coaches) will travel south to face the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Kentucky is number one in all time wins , while North Carolina is number two, but the Tar Heels lead the all time series 21-11.

Kentucky comes into the game with a record of 5-1 after defeating Boston University 57-91, to recover after losing to the University of Connecticut in the Maui Invitational tournament. North Carolina comes in 4-3 after losing to the University of Illinois 67-79. That game was part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

These programs have each gone in different directions the past couple of seasons. Since winning the 2009 National Championship, North Carolina did not make the 2010 NCAA Tournament, but they did have a successful run in the NIT making it to the finals.

Since John Calipari was named the man in charge at Kentucky, the Wildcats have gone from NIT to a NCAA Elite Eight run last season. That team was lead by five first-round draft picks. Those players had to be replaced and Calipari was able to do that by signing the top recruiting class in the country last season lead by Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones.

North Carolina knows something about top recruits also, signing the third overall class in 2010 lead by Harrison Barnes, the first ever Freshman to be named preseason First Team All American.

Both teams have seen some struggles early on in the season.

North Carolina suffered back to back losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt. This caused them to go from being ranked in the Top 10 to being outside the Top 25. There is talent on the roster, but early on the players do not always seem to be on the same page. Coach Roy Williams is trying to figure out exactly what type of team he has.

Perhaps the expectations surrounding this UNC team was too much. They have seem to be out of sync on the floor. Could Coach Williams be on the hot seat? It is still early in the season, but for Tar Heel fans this is not the start they expected.

With all the hype surrounding Barnes early, the freshman has not yet played at a high level. He was 0-12 from the field in the loss to Minnesota, had only 8 points in a win against the College of Charleston, and only had 8 points in the loss to Illinois. For the season he is averaging only 11 points a game and 6 rebounds. He is only shooting 35% on the season.

Kentucky is once again lead by incoming Freshmen. While most of the talk was of Knight (16ppg) Terrence Jones appears to be the most complete player Kentucky has. Averaging 21 points a game to go with 10 rebounds, Jones had his coming out party in Maui. He can shoot the 3 and is not afraid to attack the basket.

This team is built more for John Calipari’s “Dribble Drive Motion” motion offense. Kentucky has been at its best when they are attacking the basket. Driving to kick out for wide open three point shots or lay ups.

But at times the offense has not been so smooth. Against Connecticut, the Wildcats were hanging with the Huskies until Terrence Jones picked up his second foul and had to sit. A single digit deficit turned into a 29-50 Connecticut halftime lead. The Wildcats never recovered. Instead of attacking the basket, they settled for jump shots, which were not falling. That has been a problem for Kentucky early on, which happens with Freshmen playing big minutes.

The one advantage that North Carolina should have in this game is in the post. The combination of 7’0”Junior Tyler Zeller (16ppg, 8 rpg) and 6’10” Sophomore John Henson ( 10ppg, 11rpg) should cause problems for the Wildcats. Kentucky will counter with Jones and Senior Josh Harrelson (4ppg, 8rpg) with the only other low post player Kentucky has will be Eloy Vargas (3ppg, 4rpg).

The Wildcats had hoped to have top recruit Enes Kanter in the post, but the NCAA ruled him to be permanently ineligible this season, pending an appeal this week by Kentucky. That loss makes UK thin in the post and that should be an advantage to the Tar Heels.

Kentucky should have the advantage on the wings. With Juniors DeAndre Liggins (9 ppg) and Darius Miller (10ppg) to go along with Knight. Another Freshman, Doron Lamb (11ppg) has also been a spark off the bench for Kentucky.

Plus who for the Tar Heels will draw the task of guarding Jones? He should be able to take advantage of any player UNC throws at him. Plus we could see a Jones/Harrison match up. Which would be enough to make you watch, if it wasn’t for the fact that this is Kentucky-North Carolina.

Anytime you travel to Chapel Hill to play the Tar Heels it will be a tough game. This should be no different for Kentucky. How will UK’s Freshman handle their first true road game? You know Tar Heel fans will be ready to greet them. It should be a great game down on Tobacco Road.

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