OK, folks, it's time for the big one. Well, a big one, anyway.
So Saturday, we toss it up with the big, bad North Carolina Tar Heels. North Carolina is ranked #1 in the AP Poll, #2 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, and #3 in the Blogpoll. We all know UNC is the big time, and we owe these guys one. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen if we can deliver on that debt this year.
What I'll be doing today is looking at UNC in depth. I don't promise to do this for every game, but I will likely do it for the big ones.
Of course, all the talk this year, as last, has been about Tyler Hansbrough. Gone are Brandan Wright and Reyshawn Terry, both starters from last year. Taking their place on the front line and on the wing are Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson.
As you can see from the stats above, Hansbrough and Ellington are leading the team in scoring. Hansbrough leads the team in rebounding by a wide margin, although other bench players help out in that statistic.
Main contributors off the bench
As you can see, North Carolina, unlike Kentucky, is an extremely deep team. They easily go 11 deep, and their second leading rebounder, third leading scorer and leading assist man are all coming off the bench.
North Carolina under Roy Williams has played an extreme up-tempo offensive style. Williams philosophy seems to be to try to out-athlete every team, and utilize his depth of talent as a bludgeon to run teams off the court. There is no question that this works very well, and for Kentucky to compete in this game, we are going to have to keep the tempo a bit slower than we would normally like it.
Taking a look at Pomeroy's offensive numbers, let's see how the two teams stack up:
As you can see, UNC is far and away the more efficient offensive team, and that should surprise exactly no one. Kentucky's offense has been schizophrenic at best, and downright awful at worst, mostly due to wildly inconsistent guard play. Both teams are young, but North Carolina's players have been working longer in the system than Kentucky's, and that is bound to show up in the early season numbers.
Carolina is an efficient offensive team, but not nearly as efficient as they were last year at this time. The loss of the senior leadership of Rayshawn Terry and the skill of Brandan Wright seems to have impacted them on both ends of the floor. But with players like Hansbrough, Thompson and Stephenson inside, they are going to get a lot of close -range looks at the basket, and that usually leads to offensive efficiency.
Kentucky does appear to have an offensive rebounding advantage, and supposedly this figure is adjusted for competition quality, but I doubt very much if it is adjusted enough. Kentucky has a very small front line compared to North Carolina, and I expect it to be tough for the Cats on the boards today.
Defensively, the tale is a little different. Kentucky has been very efficient on defense this year, despite appearances at Gardner-Webb and Stonybrook. Both of those games were ugly primarily because of our offensive futility, and although both teams took advantage of defensive breakdowns, UK is showing itself to be a very good defensive team.
Carolina, on the other hand, is not as good defensively as they were last year in any aspect of the game. The loss of Wright and Terry, the team's two best defensive players, have made this Carolina team much more vulnerable to an efficient offensive attack than last.
The intangibles should favor Kentucky. They are coming off their second worse performance of the year, and have been hearing about how bad they are from both the fans and the coaches. Kentucky fans are going to turn out en mass, and it will be the loudest and most raucous Rupp Arena in quite some time.
5 Reasons Why Kentucky Will Win
- Patrick Patterson dominates Hansbrough like Morris did last year
- Ramel Bradley plays a replay of Liberty or Texas Southern
- Joe Crawford scores inside and out
- Perry Stevenson gets 8 rebounds
- Alex Legion scores 10 points or more
5 Reasons Why Kentucky Will Lose
- Patrick Patterson in foul trouble
- Ramel Bradely turnovers
- Joe Crawford cold shooting
- Nobody stops Deon Thompson on the offensive glass
- Nobody stops Ty Lawson from getting into the paint
North Carolina has played a better schedule and has a much deeper team than UK, especially in quality depth. Regardless of what the Chicken Littles of the Kentucky fan base say, I personally believe our starting five is very competitive quality-wise with UNC, but when we get to our bench, it quickly becomes another matter.
We really don't know how Kentucky will compete against a team that is actually the same size and with the same or better quality athletes -- the Cats have yet to play such a team this year. North Carolina, however, has played several quality teams, including Davidson, BYU and Ohio State. Kentucky will arguably be only the third best team they have faced.
Matchup wise, the biggest problem UK will have is in the paint, where UNC is bigger and much more physical. Tyler Hansbrough is a load inside, and will severely test Patrick Patterson's skill on defense. We really don't have much of a matchup with Deon Thompson. Coury is as close as we have to a size matchup, but Stevenson gives up close to 50# to Thompson, and that will be a tough situation for him. If Stevenson can ever figure out how to use his superior quickness, perhaps he will be OK, but he has only had one decent game so far this year. It's hard to know what will happen there.
Patterson must stay out of foul trouble for Kentucky to have any chance in this game. Obviously, North Carolina knows this, and you can bet that they will challenge Patterson at every available opportunity. Stevenson, AJ Stewart and Mark Coury must step up big time and help him, or this game could get ugly fast.
In the back court, Ty Lawson is our biggest problem. He has explosive quickness off the dribble, and Ramel Bradley will be very hard pressed to keep him out of the lane. Kentucky currently has no player who can guard Lawson if he shoots the ball well from the perimeter. Lawson has shot well from three this year percentage-wise, but he rarely takes the shot. Bradley will have to concede it to him in order to keep him out of the lane.
Wayne Ellington is the best 3-point shooter on the team, making 50% of his field goals from that range and shooting over 5 per game. But North Carolina is understandably more focused on getting the ball inside to their powerful and talented front line.
In sum, this game will be the first real test for the young Wildcats and their newly-minted head coach. No matter what the outcome of this game, we will certainly learn a lot about the state of Kentucky basketball today. This early season examination, and the one coming up against Indiana next Saturday, will expose most of our weaknesses and strengths. I don't predict the outcome of basketball games, so you won't get a score on this one, but it doesn't take Kreskin or the Great Karnak to see this is going to be an opportunity to excel for the Cats.