Fifty-four point five percent.
That was Kentucky's three-point percentage in the NCAA tournament game, and it sunk the Tar Heels. From the four minute mark on, with the Wildcats clinging to a two-point lead, every shot Kentucky attempted was a three. They hit half of them down the stretch, enough to keep UNC at bay and and them packing.
Brandon Knight took most of the threes that day, and on the season; he's since moved on to the NBA. As is DeAndre Liggins, who hit the game-winning three with 35 seconds remaining. But Carolina fans are familiar with the shooting guard left behind, Doron Lamb. Lamb had what was at the time a career-high against the Heels in their first meeting, scoring 24 points on 7 of 12 shooting. UNC did a better job of containing him in the second game, but fellow guard Darius Miller picked up some of the slack, only scoring eleven but giving the Wildcats a third option beyond the hot hand hands of Knight and Liggins.
This season, Lamb has come into his own, scoring in double digits in four of his six games and shooting the same 48% from beyond the arc he did last year while being a bigger part of the offense. Miller has been quieter, shooting considerably worse than he did last season, but also taking fewer threes and driving to the basket more. UNC will have to be careful about who they choose to defend him, as he will probably be tough for Kendall Marshall to handle. Dexter Strickland won't have a problem, but the Heels might use him to defend and disrupt the point guard.
Speaking of the point, UNC will be facing a freshman for the second year in a row. This time it's Marquis Teague, younger brother of former Wake star Jeff Teague. Teague turns the ball over at roughly the same rate his predecessor did, without providing the number of assists or the scoring opportunities of Knight. Which isn't to say he isn't a threat. The freshman is averaging 10.7 points a game, and trails only the two bigs and Lamb in shooting percentage. His game can be easily disrupted, however.
Also a threat both outside and inside is his fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. A very young freshman with an unusual shot, the small forward is averaging 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. He's not the best shooter on the team, but the Wildcats trust him enough to give him the green light to shoot. He's also one of the better defenders on the team, averaging almost two steals a game. He often flirts with fouling out and is pretty turnover prone by Wildcat standards.
Kentucky is not a deep team, giving six players 20+ minutes and a few to backup big men Eloy Vargas and Kyle Wiltjer. The Wildcats were never especially deep last season, however, and it served them well. The key difference this year is Kentucky freshman, and the defensive matchups they present the Heels. I like the thought of Harrison Barnes on Kidd-Gilchrist, and either Strickland or Marshall harassing Teague. I think you're going to get a lot of transition baskets that way. Henson on Davis is going to be a little closer to call, but again experience can win out. The bottom line is, the majority of Kentucky's starting five has never seen a team like Carolina. They'll have the home court and crowd advantage – the Wildcats were like night and day depending on where they played last season – and a UNC team that plays like it has in the last couple of games can easily lose. But they have a tournament game to avenge, and experience their opponent does not. They should win this game.