Kentucky Wildcats (4) @ North Carolina Tar Heels (2): Game Preview

A heavyweight rematch.  That's what we have tomorrow when the Kentucky Wildcats tip it off against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the East Regional Final.  Including the Duke Blue Devils in the triumvirate, North Carolina and Kentucky are two of the three most potent basketball programs in the nation, currently. There are some Johnny-come-latelys also making some noise, like the Connecticut Huskies, but the Tar Heels and Wildcats represent the "old money" of NCAA basketball. 

Both teams are so steeped in tradition and success that, along with the aforementioned Blue Devils, they form the elite of the Elite, and it's hard for all but their respective partisans to pick which, if any, of these bluebloods are currently first among equals. The Blue Devils have been dismissed, and only the Tar Heels and Wildcats remain.  Today's game is a revenge game for the 'Cats, and an opportunity for both teams to claim complete dominance over their two nearest rivals.

The seasons so far look like this:

 

W-L Splits: Kentucky North Carolina
Split W-L Pct W-L Pct
Home 15-0 1.0 15-0 1.0
Away 3-7 0.3 7-3 0.7
Neutral 10-1 0.909 7-4 0.636
Conference 10-6 0.625 14-2 0.875
Conf Home 8-0 1.0 8-0 1.0
Conf Away 2-6 0.25 6-2 0.75
Conf Neutral 0-0 - 0-0 -
Top 25 8-4 0.667 3-4 0.429
RPI 1-50 11-4 0.733 6-5 0.545
RPI 51-100 4-3 0.571 13-1 0.929
RPI 101-150 6-1 0.857 7-0 1.0
RPI 151-200 2-0 1.0 0-1 0.0
RPI 200+ 5-0 1.0 3-0 1.0


What I find interesting here is that UK has the better neutral court record, and North Carolina has the better road record.  Both teams are undefeated at home, but Kentucky has a significantly better record against the Top 25, and the RPI top 50.  None of this, however, means much in a game of this magnitude.

For the North Carolina perspective, be sure to visit SBNation's excellent Tar Heels blog, Carolina March.  More after the jump.

Personnel:

# Name Status Height Weight Year Min/Gm PPG FG% FT% 3P% RPG ORPG DRPG APG TOPG SPG BPG
1 Dexter Strickland S 6-3 180 Sophomore 26.75 7.444 0.457 0.678 0.25 3.111 0.861 2.25 2.222 1.5 1.194 0
40 Harrison Barnes S 6-8 210 Freshman 29.25 15.611 0.423 0.756 0.349 5.833 2.056 3.778 1.417 1.889 0.722 0.417
31 John Henson S 6-10 210 Sophomore 26.833 11.917 0.5 0.482 0.167 10.139 3.306 6.833 0.833 2.056 0.583 3.278
5 Kendall Marshall S 6-3 186 Freshman 24.333 6.194 0.433 0.683 0.404 2.056 0.167 1.889 6.167 2.472 1 0.083
44 Tyler Zeller S 7-0 250 Junior 27.917 15.556 0.543 0.754 0 7.194 2.917 4.278 0.611 1.333 0.75 1.139
32 D.J. Johnston RP 6-4 195 Junior 1.615 0.308 0.25 0 0 0.615 0.154 0.462 0.077 0.077 0 0.077
3 Daniel Bolick RP 5-10 175 Senior 1.357 0.429 0.25 1 0 0.357 0 0.357 0.143 0.071 0 0
22 David Dupont RP 6-5 195 Junior 1.5 0 0 0 0 0.417 0.167 0.25 0.083 0.083 0 0
30 Patrick Crouch RP 5-11 175 Junior 1.667 0.75 0.5 0 0.333 0.083 0 0.083 0 0.25 0 0
15 Stewart Cooper RP 6-5 205 Junior 1.417 0 0 0 0 0.333 0.083 0.25 0.083 0.083 0 0
13 Van Hatchell RP 6-4 185 Senior 1.455 0.091 0 0.5 0 0.364 0.091 0.273 0.091 0.182 0 0
25 Justin Knox R 6-9 240 Senior 9.333 1.97 0.375 0.533 0.333 1.939 0.667 1.273 0.545 0.455 0.061 0.121
11 Larry Drew II NLA 6-2 180 Junior 22.81 4.429 0.384 0.677 0.207 2.333 0.19 2.143 3.905 1.81 1.095 0
24 Justin Watts +R 6-4 210 Junior 14.528 4.528 0.526 0.651 0 3.194 1.028 2.167 0.361 1.139 0.222 0.333
2 Leslie McDonald +R 6-4 215 Sophomore 15.657 7.143 0.388 0.744 0.386 2.171 0.771 1.4 0.571 0.829 0.543 0.057
35 Reggie Bullock NLA
6-7 190 Freshman 14.519 6.148 0.367 0.565 0.296 2.815 0.815 2 0.593 0.481 0.667 0.111
 
  Status Code  
Major reserve +R
Minor reserve -R
Reserve R
No longer available NLA
Rarely plays RP


We all pretty much know who plays for the Tar Heels.  The only real difference between now and the last time we played them is the addition of Kendall Marshall as the starting point guard and Larry Drew II leaving the team.  The result has been a much better chemistry, for whatever reason, and an impressive improvement for the Tar Heels.  Stats leaders are highlighted in yellow.

Injuries

North Carolina

Reggie Bullock     G     out for season - Knee - 3/2/11     Bullock will miss the rest of the season due to a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee.

Kentucky

Enes Kanter     F     out for season - Eligibility - 1/8/11     Kanter has been ruled 'permanently ineligible' by the NCAA after their investigation ruled that he received improper benefits while playing for a club team in Turkey in 2008-09.

 

Four Factors Analysis

Kentucky is the best shooting and ballhandling team.  North Carolina is a better offensive rebounding team and gets to the line more.

Matchup Analysis

  1. Brandon Knight vs. Kendall Marshall.  When you think about how these two players came out of high school, you would think that Brandon Knight would easily win here.  But Kendall Marshall is a pure point guard, and plays a different game.  He averages more assists, more turnovers, and has the same floor pct. as Knight, but Knight averages many more points.  Still, Knight is the more athletic player and Marshall is not a great defender.  Advantage:  Kentucky

     
  2. Doron Lamb vs. Dexter Strickland.  Lamb is better than Strickland in most statistical areas, including scoring, turnovers, and floor percent.  Strickland and Lamb are similar in that they are both combo guards, and can play some point.  But Lamb is just a little more polished and dangerous.  Advantage:  Kentucky.
     
  3. Darius Miller vs. Harrison Barnes.  Barnes is an incredible talent, almost certainly bound for the NBA this year.  Miller is significantly less talented, but more mature.  If both were freshmen, this would be a major mismatch, but the two years Miller has been at UK has been a big help to him.  Barnes still gets the nod, but not by much.  Advantage:  North Carolina.
     
  4. Terrence Jones vs. John Henson.  John Henson is a freakishly long player who, despite his gaunt and underweight frame, is playing very strong inside.  Jones is stronger, but Henson's lenght is a major factor everywhere.  Jones is the better offensive player, but Henson is slightly better defensively.  Advantage:  Push.
     
  5. Josh Harrellson vs. Tyler Zeller.  Harrellson is technically mismatched against everybody this year, but after fighting Freshman of the Year Jared Sullinger to a draw, you cannot automatically assume that he is disadvantaged against a player like Zeller.  Zeller is a much better offensive player and is longer and taller than Harrellson. Harrellson is stronger and more physical than Zeller.  I'm giving the nod to Zeller, mainly because every time I do, Josh proves me wrong.  Advantage:  North Carolina.

     
  6. Bench.  North Carolina has better quality depth, although their rotation isn't what you'd call extremely deep, and DeAndre Liggins is almost like a sixth starter.  Still, you have to give the nod to the Tar Heels on this one.  Advantage:  North Carolina.

 

Overall Observations

  • The conventional wisdom is that UNC is too fast for Kentucky.  This is wrong.  Zeller runs the floor like a deer, but Josh Harrellson hustles like nobody else on either team.  He will accept the challenge of making sure Zeller does not get ahead of him.
  • John Henson's length really worries me.  Henson has really improved, and even though he isn't a good shooter, he really does make plays.  If Kentucky can neutralize him, it augers well for the 'Cats chances.
  • Kendall Marshall may really suffer at the hands of the much faster Knight, so much so that I would be surprised if he guards him much.  But he isn't a good enough defender to handle Lamb either, and Liggins is way too big for him.  Marshall is fulcrum upon which this game turns, on both sides of the ball.
  • This goes against conventional wisdom, but I think Liggins will be placed on Kendall Marshall.  Liggins was very effective in neutralizing Aaron Craft, and Marshall is a similar type of player with fewer defensive skills.
  • Harrison Barnes is the one guy on North Carolina that is arguably more talented than anyone on the Kentucky team.  How the Wildcats defend him will have a big impact on the outcome of the game.
  • Kentucky should force the 'Heels to defend them half court, and must not allow Carolina to speed them up where they are most comfortable.  A slower game really favors the Wildcats.  Teams that slow the Tar Heels down always have a shot to win the game, and Duke crushed them in a 69-possession game in the ACC tournament.
  • Kentucky must take better care of the ball against the Tar Heels than they did against the Ohio St. Buckeyes.  Kentucky had 18% turnovers against the Buckeyes.  Turning the ball over against the Tar Heels can result in a blizzard of fast break points.
  • The Wildcats will be able to double-team off of some of the Carolina players, unlike Ohio State.  It will be interesting to see if they do, or if they once again try to challenge every player at every position.
  • North Carolina, unlike Ohio St., is not a great shooting team and is below average from the free throw line.  It's rare that Kentucky is better at the line than their opponent, but they are better than the Tar Heels.
  • Kentucky must minimize fouls.  That was tough against OSU, and they must work even harder to keep them down against the Tar Heels.

This will be a great game.  The line appears to be Kentucky -1, but I think this is just a push.  This is likely to be a great college basketball game between two talented, well-coached teams that goes down to the last couple of possessions.

Hold on to your butts.

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