It's not the strangest thing that could ever happen. I mean, a Kentucky team -- however overlooked, and however rightly so -- that has two McDonald's All-Americans in the starting lineup, a slew of talented newcomers and a chip on its shoulder the size of a Tarheel cheerleader's ... well, you get the point... coming into the Dean Dome and getting it done.
It's unlikely, sure. But so was sweeping the SEC in 2003. It's improbable, yes. But so was a team with Erik Daniels at center heading into the NCAAs as the 31 overall seed.
Today, the Wildcats get to show whether they are built for the national spotlight. Again. The first two attempts at this were mixed. Both were losses, but while a slim loss to now-No. 1 UCLA (AP poll) showed UK to be a contender if nothing else, a stomping by top-10 Memphis did the opposite, planting giant seeds of doubt in an already dubious and pessmistic Big Blue Nation.
Now, after beating then No. 1 (Coaches' poll) Ohio State on Wednesday, the Heels get Kentucky -- no one's dark horse. Yet.
What to look for:
* Tempo: Tubby Smith, no doubt having seen the game on Wednesday, among other tapes, has to see that trying to run with the Heels is a futile effort. While the Cats have some skilled players, defense will have to prevail for Tubby's guys against a talented, but young, UNC team.
* Defensive pressure: Which Kentucky unit will show? The dedicated to stopping the dribble Cats of Tuesday's win over Charleston or the fun 'n let 'em run Cats of Maui? If it's the former, the Cats can hang with the Heels throughout, assuming the Big Blue makes shots. One wonders if Tubby will toss in the press sometimes to try and rattle the North Carolina freshmen.
* Start your engines: Under Tubby Smith, it always seems the Cats are slow starters. Focused on getting his defensive sets run to perfection, UK has often gotten out of the gate with some clanks and skids. Usually, when the defense is working, that proves not as big a deal since the other team does, too. The Cats cannot afford a scoring drought to open the game at UNC. The Heels are too deep and too pumped up to back off, and Roy Williams won't pull his foot off the gas, ever.
* It's a low post thang: The game is being billed as a Tyler Hansbrough vs. Randolph Morris bout, and maybe it should. Morris is hoping to prove he's legit after bad press and bad mojo derailed his pro dreams. Hansbrough is the media darling, the white wunderkind whose "motor never stops," according to roughly 350 articles written this early season.
Probable starting lineups
PG -- Ramel Bradley, Jr., Brooklyn, NY
SG -- Joe Crawford, Jr., Detroit, MI
SF -- Bobby Perry, Sr., Durham, NC
PF -- Sheray Thomas, Sr., Montreal, QC
C -- Randolph Morris, Jr., Atlanta, GA
F Perry Stevenson, C, Jared Carter, C Lukasz Obrzut, G Derrick Jasper, G Jodie Meeks, G Michael Porter
PG -- Ty Lawson, Fr., Clinton, MD
SG -- Wayne Ellington, Fr., Wynnewood, PA
SF -- Reyshawn Terry, Sr., Winston-Salem, NC
PF -- Brandan Wright, Fr., Nashville, TN
C -- Tyler Hansbrough, So., Poplar Bluff, MO
G Danny Green, F Marcus Ginyard, F Deon Thompson, G Wes Miller, G Bobby Frasor, F Alex Stepheson
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