Kentucky Wildcats (1-4) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (4-2)
- Game Time: 2 pm EST on Dec. 19.
- Location: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.
- TV Channel: Today’s game can be seen on CBS.
- Announcers: Carter Blackburn and Bill Raftery will be on the call.
- Online Stream: CBS Sports and a free trial of fuboTV.
- Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and on the UK Sports Network.
- Replay: CBS Sports Network and/or SEC Network (check local listings).
- Odds: The Tar Heels opened as 3-point favorites. It’s 2.5 as of Saturday at noon. KenPom gives the Cats a 44% chance of winning, while ESPN BPI gives them a 34.1% chance of beating the Heels.
- Tickets: No fans allowed.
- Rosters: UK | UNC
- Box Scores from Last Game: UK | UNC
- Season Stats and Rankings: UK | UNC
- Predictions: KenPom projects a 71-69 win for North Carolina. TeamRankings has the Tar Heels winning 70-68, but numberFire is predicting a 72-71 victory for Kentucky.
Whoo boy, what a major news week for Kentucky athletics.
There is a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line coach, and now a major schedule change for Kentucky basketball.
The scheduled game against UCLA has been scheduled for months, but somehow a change of opponents and schedules has allowed for better adherence to COVID-19 testing protocols. While Kentucky has had some good games with UCLA in recent years, there is much more history against North Carolina.
In any season, this is a more exciting matchup for fans of both teams. No offense to Ohio State and UCLA, but Kentucky and UNC are the marquee teams in the CBS Sports Classic every year.
And even in a season when both teams are not looking elite (yet), this game will be a huge draw for all college basketball fans. The big question is whether or not the Wildcats are ready for a team like the No. 22 Tar Heels.
North Carolina comes in with a record of 4-2. They have no notable wins, but their losses have come against Iowa and Texas, both of which are solid teams. The Tar Heels have an extremely balanced attack with four players averaging between 11 and 12 points.
Senior forward Garrison Brooks leads UNC with 11.8 points per game just ahead of Caleb Love (11.2) and RJ Davis (11.2). Former Kentucky target Armando Bacot averages 11 points per game and leads the Tar Heels with 8.8 rebounds each time out.
Another key player to watch for is Day’Ron Sharpe, who’s averaging 8.5 points per game on 61.3% shooting to go with 6.7 boards and 1.5 blocks. He’s scored in double figures in two straight games. He blocked four shots in the 67-63 win over Stanford, which is currently the Tar Heels’ best win this season.
The good news is that Kentucky has a size advantage on the perimeter. The primary guards for North Carolina are Davis (6-0) and Love (6-4). That will be an even bigger advantage for Kentucky if Terrence Clarke spends a lot of time at point guard. However, the Tar Heels have a lot of height and depth in the paint with Bacot (6-10), Brooks (6-10), and Sharpe (6-11).
That size has helped North Carolina rank near the top of several rebounding categories nationally, including rebounds per game (2nd) and offensive rebounds per game (6th).
Conversely, Kentucky has ranked 81st and 43rd in those same categories.
Sticking to the size theme, the Tar Heels rank 33rd in blocks per game compared to Kentucky being 31st.
Regardless of size, the Tar Heels like to play fast, like they always do. That could prove to play into the hands of the Wildcats that seem to really struggle in their half-court offense. A game that allows the Wildcats to get up and down the court will allow the athleticism and length to really make a difference where it has been largely muted at times in “grind it out” style games.
More good news is that North Carolina does not shoot the ball particularly well from the outside. As a team, they have hit only 27% of their three-pointers this season. The only player on the team shooting better than 35% is guard Andrew Playtek, who only averages 6.8 points per game.
So for a team that has often struggled guarding the perimeter, facing a UNC team that does not shoot well could be huge. Or the Tar Heels will decide to be the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. It is really a toss-up.
It looks like we may see some different lineups on Saturday for Kentucky. John Calipari has been pretty open about his opinion that the team is better with Clarke at the lead guard position. He also seems to recognize that the half-court offense is at its best when run through Olivier Sarr.
Does that mean Davion Mintz and Devin Askew will see limited time? Will they play off the ball? We will find out on Saturday what the game plan with the guards will be.
It would also be a great time for Keion Brooks Jr. to come back from the injured list to make his season debut. His experience in big games for Kentucky could be huge in a game like this. That would also provide paint depth to counter the size of North Carolina, and allow more flexibility for Calipari with bigger, yet still athletic lineups.
Playing UCLA certainly had its story-lines. I am sure Mick Cronin wanted a piece of this struggling Kentucky team. Those two programs have the most championships all-time.
But given the recent history between these two teams (2017 still gives me nightmares) and the fact that neither team is currently dominant, this adds meaning to the last out-of-conference game before taking on another ACC opponent down the road.
Here’s a look back at the last time Kentucky and North Carolina faced off: