Though I usually can't pick my nose in the NCAA's, this time i predicted that only one-1 seed and no two seeds would see the final four, and the Cats can make that happen today with a win. Before the tourney started, I also predicted this year to be "The Perfect Storm" for Kentucky; with OSU, Carolina, (I said Duke but i'll take UConn), then the boys from you know where all going down at hands of these dreamers.
A dream yes, but one that as of today is alive...
Let's take a look at some numbers and facts borrowed from kenpom.com:
Generally, the Heels play faster paced than does Kentucky, thus scoring more points per game. Carolina wants to push the ball looking for open 2pt shots, and I doubt that Calipari will mind too much if a fast pace that should free the three ball. Carolina plays its offense primarily through their bigs; they are monster offensive rebounders, while Kentucky is slightly better at defensive rebounding. Keeping the Heels off their offensive glass is crucial.
The two teams are fairly equal at offensive shooting % inside the arc, but Carolina scores most of its points inside the arc, as they shoot fewer threes than Kentucky, and those are not shot that well (33.2%). Kentucky shoots the three very well (39.2%), and relatively more often, though they are not simply a three-point shooting team that lives (and dies) by the three.
Kentucky shoots free throws better (71.7% vs 67%), but Carolina does not foul nearly as much as Kentucky, and relatively little ... period. Kentucky takes care of the ball much better (makes fewer turnovers), ranked #9 in Division 1 vs #166 in offensive TO%. Kentucky defends the three about the same as Carolina (opponents shoot 33.2% vs 32.5%), but defends inside the arc better (opp shoot 41.7 vs 44.4%). Kentucky's opponents shoot fewer threes than Carolina's opposition. Kentucky typically blocks a slightly higher percentage of shots than Carolina.
Kentucky's effective field goal % is higher than Carolina's (52.5 vs 49.2). This factor is calculated combining 2pt and 3pt shooting %, and its adjusted offensive efficiency (all factors combined - shooting %, TO%, OR%, FT%), is better (ranked #7 in division 1 vs #39), although Carolina has a better adjusted defensive ratio (same factors only defensively - ranked #5 div 1 vs #20). Yet, Kentucky's effective defensive field goal % is bit higher than is Carolina's (i.e. guarding 2pt and 3pt shots combined).
This adds up to a game likely being decided on how well Kentucky can shoot the three against a Carolina defense that does not guard the three extremely well, and then defend their own basket in the paint against Carolina's bigger frontline, and how well Carolina's somewhat shaky guards take care of the basketball against a formidable defender in kentucky. Also Carolina's free throw shooting may become a factor, since they are likely to be at the line more often.
Based on the games importance, it is likely to be a dogfight through the end with the numbers suggesting (to me) Kentucky winning by 2-3 pts, say 76-74. Of course, we all know how the game is not played on paper, but in the hearts and minds of the players, and at the coaching box. For my money, I like Kentucky here too, with the 4 seeding being a large factor in the chip they seem to be wearing on their shoulders. To me, the Heels seem satisfied to just have the monkey off their backs from last year's debacle season, and seem a bit soft. Getting pounded by Duke and Georgia Tech this year shows they are vulnerable to a blowout.
Look for Liggins to possibly step out on Marshal early to test his fortitude, then settle in with defending Barnes. If Kentucky goes cold from the three point line, look for a long afternoon watching Carolina rebound and head off to the races, ending in many contested layups, dunks, and foul trouble for the Cats. This will not end pretty for our boys, and we go home to watch on TV. The play of Terrence Jones and Darius Miller seems important here in how well we can contain the big Carolina frontline. We already know Harrelson, Liggins, Lamb, and Knight will show up ready to play.