Tonight is the night for the big game of the very early season, a UK visit to Chapel Hill to play the consensus #1 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. This is yet another opportunity for coach Gillispie and his charges to prove that they are ready to advance the UK program from its current comparatively undistinguished status among the national elite.
As we all know, the Tar Heels have managed four wins in a row, one in each of Tyler Hansbrough's years in Chapel Hill. Obviously, this grates very much on the nerves of Kentucky fans, and even though the situation is far from ideal for the Wildcats to turn around this most recent tendency, it is still an opportunity for the Wildcats to excel.
Many may think that coming off a disappointing loss to a relatively weaker VMI team last Friday makes it less likely that the 'Cats will be able to seriously contest North Carolina and have a chance to come back to Lexington with a victory. I actually believe the converse, that the most recent debacle exposed fully to both the staff and the team the problems it must overcome to be successful. How much "overcoming" can be done in three days remains to be seen.
Let's take a look at the major players and likely starting lineups for both teams (statistics courtesy of Statsheet.com):
|Kentucky Player Stats|
|North Carolina Player Stats|
|L. Drew II||1/0||12||1||0.00%||0.00%||50.00%||3||2||2||1||0||1|
There are obviously not enough statistics accumulated at this point to have any meaningful discussion of them, but that's what we have so far, meaningless or otherwise.
What we do have ar a comparison of some of these players from last year. So let's see what these statistics tell us:
Deon Thompson vs. Patrick Patterson
Size wise and game wise, these two guys are just about a perfect matchup. Thompson is a junior, which gives him a bit of an advantage in experience. So let's go to the stats from last year and see who has the advantage:
|Height||6'8"||6'8"||Minutes Per Game||21.4||35.7||N/A|
|Position||Forward||Forward||Points Per Game||8.4||16.4||Patterson|
|Home State||California||West Virginia||High Game Points||17||24||Patterson|
|Current Age||20||19||Field Goal Percentage||48.1||57.4||Patterson|
|Free Throw Percentage||59.5||73.1||Patterson|
|3pt Field Goal Percentage||0||0||N/A|
|Rebounds Per Game||4.8||7.7||Patterson|
|Offensive Rebounds Per Game||1.9||2.8||Patterson|
|Defensive Rebounds Per Game||2.9||4.8||Patterson|
|Assists Per Game||1.1||1.7||Patterson|
|Steals Per Game||0.7||0.8||Patterson|
|Blocks Per Game||1.3||1.2||Thompson|
|Turnovers Per Game||1.4||2.1||Thompson|
|Fouls Per Game||2.3||2.8||Thompson|
Kentucky is looking good in this matchup statistically, but we haven't taken into consideration that Thompson has had a whole off-season to develop his skills, whereas Patrick Patterson has spent his entire off-season recovering from orthopedic surgery, and there is some feeling among the Big Blue Nation, including yours truly, that Patterson is not yet 100% recovered.
So while we may be tempted to call this matchup for Patterson, I think I would resist that. Instead, I am going to call it a slight advantage for Thompson based on the overall balance of factors.
Jodie Meeks vs. Wayne Ellington
Because of Meeks' injury, we would have to compare his freshman season, and that is not very useful, so we won't be going to the stats on this one. Meeks is a little bit bigger and stronger, but both players have very similar games. Both are reliable three-point shooters and both are excellent free throw shooters.
This matchup is simply too close to call, which is a good thing for Kentucky. Meeks has been a scoring machine for UK, primarily because he must be. Ellington has not scored as much as Meeks, perhaps, on a per-game basis in the few comparable games they have played, but if he were one of two scoring options, he arguably would have. Neither player has an advantage here.
Ramon Harris vs. Danny Green
On paper, this looks like a mismatch. Danny Green is a proven athletic scorer, and Ramon Harris is the Wildcats' toughest defender. So let's go to last year's stats and see what they say:
|Position||Guard/Forward||Forward||Minutes Per Game||22.3||22.6||N/A|
|Home State||New York||Alaska||Points Per Game||11.5||4.2||Green|
|Current Age||21||20||High Game Points||20||12||Green|
|Field Goal Percentage||46.9||50.7||Harris|
|Free Throw Percentage||87.3||60||Green|
|3pt Field Goal Percentage||37.3||36||Green|
|Rebounds Per Game||4.9||3.5||Green|
|Offensive Rebounds Per Game||1.7||0.9||Green|
|Defensive Rebounds Per Game||3.2||2.6||Green|
|Assists Per Game||2||1.2||Green|
|Steals Per Game||1.2||1||Green|
|Blocks Per Game||1.2||0.5||Green|
|Turnovers Per Game||1.9||1.9||Push|
|Fouls Per Game||2.3||1.9||Green|
Basically, this is a contest between two very good players with very different games. Danny Green is capable of going off for big points from absolutely anyhwere on the court. Harris is one of the better defenders in the SEC, and has improved his shooting and ballhandling over the course of the year. It really comes down to what you value more -- offense or defense.
I'm going to give a small advantage to Danny Green. He is a more highly touted player, and his offensive ability give him a bit of an advantage overall. It isn't as big an advantage as you might think, but that's how I'm going to call it.
Ty Lawson vs. Michael Porter
Lets start with the stats:
|Position||Guard||Guard||Minutes Per Game||25.3||15.4||N/A|
|Home State||Maryland||California||Points Per Game||12.7||2||Lawson|
|Current Age||21||21||High Game Points||26||9||Lawson|
|Field Goal Percentage||51.5||30.6||Lawson|
|Free Throw Percentage||83.5||87.5||Porter|
|3pt Field Goal Percentage||36.1||41.9||Porter|
|Rebounds Per Game||2.7||1.2||Lawson|
|Offensive Rebounds Per Game||0.5||0.3||Lawson|
|Defensive Rebounds Per Game||2.3||0.8||Lawson|
|Assists Per Game||5.2||1.1||Lawson|
|Steals Per Game||1.6||0.8||Lawson|
|Blocks Per Game||0||0.1||Porter|
|Turnovers Per Game||2.2||1.6||Porter|
|Fouls Per Game||1.8||1.8||Push|
Obviously, this is a mismatch on paper, and in reality. Ty Lawson is simply a much better point guard than Michael Porter in almost every respect. Lawson is also much too quick for Porter to guard. Not only is he too quick for Porter to guard, he is to quick for anyone on Kentucky's team to guard.
If there is a spot that will lose Kentucky this game, it is here. Michael Porter has yet to prove himself against quality competition, and this is one tough spot to have to try to do that. I wish I had better news for the Big Blue Nation, but reality cannot be ignored. North Carolina has a large advantage here.
Perry Stevenson vs. Tyler Zeller
There are no stats for Zeller, so a statistical comparison is moot. Tyler Zeller is a highly-touted freshman, and is a very capable player. Perry Stevenson, however, is all those things plus a junior. Stevenson is more athletic and has developed into a dangerous offensive player. We didn't get to see it much in the last game, but Stevenson is much more confident with the ball in his hands, now, and is even capable of beating players his size off the dribble.
This is the one matchup where Kentucky has a decided advantage. Normally, Tyler Hansbrough would be in this spot, and the advantage would be very much the other way, but Hansbrough is inured and unable to play.
North Carolina has a deeper and more experienced bench, but most of UNC's most talented players on the bench this year are freshman. Ed Davis was a five-star recruit for Roy Williams, and he will see significant action against the 'Cats. He is an athletic swing forward who at 6'10" can play either forward spot and is a special talent. Bobby Frasor is an experienced point guard who was badly injured last year, and I am not sure if he will be available.
Kentucky counters with the highly-touted DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller at the wing spots, and Josh Harrellson down low. All in all, it is a fairly close call between the benches, although I am inclined to give North Carolina an edge here due to slightly higher talent level and more experience.
At this point, there is no argument here -- Roy Williams is a national championship coach and has won more games by accident than Billy Gillispie has on purpose. That isn't a knock against Gillispie, it is just the fact that Williams has been a Division I head coach much longer, and at two elite level schools.
For Gillsipie, this is a chance to earn himself some noteriety by knocking of arguably one of the top two or three head coaches in the college basketball game.
North Carolina is going to push, and after VMI, I have no idea how the Wildcats are going to respond. In the front court with Hansbrough down, Kentucky has a small advantage. In the back court, the Tar Heels have a decided advantage. My experience is that the backcourt differential will matter more, but that isn't necessarily so.
The Tar Heels are heavily favored, but the Wildcats are capable. Will they pull of the upset? We don't know now, but we will in four short hours.