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Kentucky Basketball – Santa Claus And North Carolina Are Coming To Town

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‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la. Is December 13th too early to enjoy the holidays (specifically Christmas)? UNC seems to be this year’s version of the gift that keeps on giving, if you’re interested in scandals.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

I am not usurping Glenn's preview of the game as he always does. I'm just offering a different perspective. Also, I'm not going to get into North Carolina's problems. There's plenty of info about that all over the sports media that isn't the NCAA or the major television media outlets. I don't think Kentucky fans should be pointing fingers considering our own problems in the past. This is about a basketball game between two of the elite programs in college basketball.

I relish the series between these two teams because UNC ranks 3rd in all time wins with 2,120. There are four Elite programs as defined by winning more than 2,000 games. Kentucky, of course leads with 2,150. Kansas has 2,133 and Duke is 4th with 2,035. Just for the record, UCLA has 1,789 (7th), Indiana ranks 10th with 1,743 and Louisville is 11th with 1,736 all time wins. Don't look for any team to come close to Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Duke over the next 10 years or so.

As a Kentucky fan, I am very pleased to say that the Wildcats will have played two of the three other elites this year during the regular season. And, while UK has entered into a contract with UCLA (home and home) beginning next year, I wish Kentucky and Duke could get a series going on a neutral court. Home and home would not make any sense due to the size of Cameron Indoor Arena. Playing Duke on an annual basis at Madison Square Garden would be awesome. Back to UNC.

North Carolina's last game before the visit to Lexington, was a 108-64 victory over East Carolina on December 7th.  Kentucky played on the same day and beat Eastern Kentucky 82-49. ECU left the Dean Dome with a 4-5 record. EKU left Rupp Arena with a 4-3 record. Are either of these games indicative of the UNC-UK matchup? That would be an emphatic "NO."  You have to wonder, though, if Kentucky's game against Columbia or North Carolina's week of practice is more beneficial.

I hate the cupcake games because Kentucky plays to the level of its competition which means the Wildcats pretty much suck in most of the cupcake games. The game against Columbia was no exception. The Cats came out flat as a pancake and looked absolutely terrible. They played with hands of stone, fumbling passes that they would normally catch. Frankly, they look bored, knowing they were going to win no matter what.

Kentucky isn't the only school to play awful against cupcakes. Just look at Michigan. The Wolverines have lost their last two games to New Jersey Technical Institute and Eastern Michigan at home. Louisville played a stinker in a win over Cleveland State at home. North Carolina also had a stinker in the first game against North Carolina Central. I wish the cupcakes were in the preseason exhibitions rather than in the regular season. That way, these smaller schools could still get their paychecks, but the larger schools wouldn't be able to use the games to pad their stats.

So, how do the 6-2 Tarheels match up with the 10-0 Wildcats? You can go to Statsheet.com for a pregame comparison which also includes the Four Factors. You can match UK's Defense vs Carolina's Offense. You'll have to sort to get the Four Factors. Or, you can find them in Glenn's preview of the game.

According to Statsheet, Kentucky ranks #2 in the RPI and Carolina ranks 32nd.  Kentucky's strength of schedule ranks 30th while UNC's ranks 31st. Neither has played an away game. Kentucky is 2-0 against the A/P Top 25 and 4-0 against the RPI Top 50. North Carolina is 0-1 against the A/P Top 25 and 0-2 against the RPI Top 50. North Carolina's two losses came at the hands of Butler 66-74 at Atlantis and Iowa 55-60 at home.

As I said, the pre-game Four Factors are somewhat misleading because they are too close and give the impression that UNC matches up well. They don't because the four factors tend to match offenses. Kentucky has won with defense, not offense. Kentucky can't throw a rock into the ocean, yet they manage to win by a wide margin. In spite of Kentucky's lousy shooting, the Wildcats are first in scoring margin (31.8 ppg) compared to UNC's 17.8 ppg which ranks #23.

Kentucky leads the nation in scoring defense and UNC is tied with Santa Clara at 137th in the NCAA. Kentucky ranks 2nd  in Blocks per game and UNC is tied with Syracuse at 19th with 6.1 blocks per game.   If you look at the Four Factors for UNC' and UK's opponents, I think you get a better feel for how this game will play out. Take a look.

UK-UNC

Remember, this is how the opponents have fared and Kentucky has clearly done a much better job defensively when it comes to each team's Four Factors for opponents. You could also look at the opponents points per possession. Kentucky is holding their opponents to 0.68 ppp while North Carolina holds their opponents to 0.88. If Kentucky can maintain the 0.68 ppp for the season, the Wildcats will set another national record.

Kentucky's depth is the issue that North Carolina will have to deal with. The Tarheels have five players who average 20 minutes or more per game. They are Marcus Paige (30.125), J.P. Tokoto (27.375), Justin Jackson (24.375), Kennedy Meeks (23.0) and Brice Johnson (20.25). They have another three who have averaged more than 10 minutes per game. They are Isaiah Hicks (15.375), Nate Britt (14.875) and Theo Pinson (14.875). Basically, The Tarheels are eight deep. All eight have started at least one game.  Paige and Meeks are their most dangerous players, in my opinion.

While everyone talks about Kentucky's platoons, the depth is really twelve deep. Willie Cauley-Stein leads UK in minutes per game, followed by the Harrisons and Alex Poythress. While Poythress had to lay out two games due to illness, Dominique Hawkins stepped in for him. Hawkins has been the 11th player in the two platoon system. The other in the twelve deep is Derek Willis. The Blue Platoon averages 19.730 minutes per game and  the White Platoon averages 15.800 minutes. Please note that I've included Hawkins on the Blue Platoon and Willis on the White Platoon just to keep things simple.

Can North Carolina win? Sure they can. They will have to play at their highest level and Kentucky will have to have one of their worst defensive games of the season. That's just the way it is. Vegas says Kentucky by ? What do you, our very informed readers, think?