Time: 5:30 pm ET on Saturday, December 16th
Location: State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
TV Channel: CBS will have today’s TV coverage.
Announcers: Brad Nessler, Bill Raftery, and Jenny Dell will call the action.
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has North Carolina favored by 1.5 points with an over/under of 163.5. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Tar Heels a 53% of winning. Bart Torvik and EvanMiya favor UNC at 53% as well. KenPom is at 45%.
Predictions: Bart Torvik and EvanMiya project the Wildcats to lose by one point, predicting final scores of 84-83 and 82-81, respectively. Haslametrics projects an 87-83 UNC victory. KenPom projected an 85-83 win for the Heels.
Big Blue Gameday in #Catlanta.— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) December 16, 2023
⏰ 5:30 p.m. (approx.)
️ https://t.co/sIKpB89Ixr pic.twitter.com/A8pk7LqW55
Let us know your prediction for today’s big game!
College basketball games on CBS often just feel different, especially with Brad Nessler and Bill Raftery on the call, as they will be this weekend as the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats take on the No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels in the CBS Sports Classic in Atlanta.
This will be the 43rd meeting between the two programs, with the Tar Heels holding the series lead, 25-17. However, they are just 1-3 against Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic. The last time the two teams matched up was back in 2021, as the trio of Kellan Grady, Oscar Tshiebwe, and Sahvir Wheeler overwhelmed the Tar Heels as the Wildcats went on to win 98-69.
This season, the two teams are currently ranked in the top 15 and possess two of the best fast-paced offenses in the country, contributing to what is expected to be an exciting, high-scoring contest.
That said, the Tar Heels have a similar identity to what they have been in recent years, led by two All-ACC calibers players in Armando Bacot and RJ Davis, with new supporting pieces. Whereas Kentucky brings just 19% of last season’s minutes and looks much more modern in their style of play.
The Tar Heels are unbeaten vs. the SEC this season after beating Arkansas in the Battle for Atlantis, then got a home win over Tennessee. The story of those games were the Tar Heels having one very dominant half of basketball.
After trailing 38-35 at halftime vs. the Hogs, UNC outscored them 52-34 in the second half en route to an 87-72 victory.
Then at home vs. Tennessee, the Heels went into halftime up 61-39 before going in cruise control on their way to a 100-92 win.
However, the Heels do have an overtime loss to a Villanova squad that’s lost to Penn and Saint Joseph’s, two teams Kentucky has defeated. That’s their only questionable loss thus far.
Let’s take a look at what to watch for in Kentucky vs. North Carolina.
Over the years, a staple for good North Carolina and Kentucky teams has been rebounding. In fact, the Tar Heels have been a top 10 rebounding team in six of the last seven seasons, with Kentucky being a top 30 rebounding team in five of those seasons.
This year, things are a little different. North Carolina is ranked just 61st with 39 rebounds per game, and Kentucky is ranked 87th with 38.2 per game. The difference between the two is that UNC is heavily reliant on Bacot in their rebound efforts, whereas it has been much more of a group effort for Kentucky, with seven players averaging more than 4+ rebounds per game, compared to just two for UNC.
Kentucky should be able to outrebound UNC’s smaller backcourt, but it will be up to the recently returned Aaron Bradshaw and potentially Ugonna Onyenso, who could make his 2023-24 debut this week, to limit Bacot on the boards.
Take Advantage of Mismatches
One of North Carolina’s biggest weaknesses is their backcourt size or lack thereof. Pair that with subpar defense thus far this season, especially with screening action, there is a recipe for Kentucky to exploit.
RJ Davis (6-0) and Elliot Cadeau (6-1) make up the North Carolina backcourt, while they are explosive offensively, they are a liability at times on defense. In their last game against UCONN, the Huskies were able to shoot right over them and, even more notably, create mismatches through screens.
As John Calipari has said multiple times this season, this Kentucky team is full of “basketball players,” meaning they can all pass, dribble, and shoot. With a versatile lineup of players, Kentucky can and should look to take advantage when they are both on the court.
Ball movement has been a staple for this Kentucky team for much of the season, ranking top ten in assists per game (19.6 APG) and first in assist/turnover ratio (2.20). However, after assisting on more than 60% of their baskets in four straight games, the ball has started to stall just a bit.
UCONN, the best passing team North Carolina has faced, had 25 assists on 34 made field goals. They did so by using mismatches (above), backdoor cuts, etc., essentially motion. The opportunity will be there for Kentucky to do the same.
Be the Aggressor, Win the Fight
Oftentimes, in big games the last few seasons, Kentucky has not been the aggressor, and they have lacked fight. That has not been the case for this team, and it was seen very early this season.
Going up against then No. 1 Kansas, just a week into the season, the Wildcats got down 9-0 in the first three minutes, and it appeared to be the start of a blowout. To Kentucky’s credit, they battled back to take a 12-point lead by the end of the first half. However, their immaturity showed, and they folded down the stretch as a much more experienced Kansas team made the plays to win.
Carolina will be another test. Against Arkansas, the Tar Heels went up as much as 12 in the first half. Against Tennessee, the Tar Heels put up 61 points in the first half. While Carolina play’s fast is more than capable of throwing the first punch, they are not very deep and tend to slow down toward the end of games.
If Kentucky can punch first and retain the aggressor for the majority of the game, they will have a good shot at the win.