Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
When: December 2nd, 12:00 PM
Records: UNC 5-1, Kentucky 4-2
This is a dangerous game for UNC. First is the letdown after the HUGE game against Ohio State on Wednesday. That game was exceptionally intense and full of emotion. It was a hard fought win and there is a tendency after such wins to letdown in the next game. Also, this is essentially the last legitimate opponent UNC plays before heading into a stretch of certifiable cupcakes. In fact the only game of any concern in the seven games after this one is a road game at St. Louis which should not be an issue. So this game will rise and fall based on UNC's focus, execution, and maintaining a decent level of intensity.
Looking at Kentucky, they seem to be caught in a pattern of being chosen as a Top 25 team preseason and then by December in lots of trouble. Tubby Smith is on the hot seat simply because the level of play in Lexington is nowhere near what Wildcats fans expect. This year's version of UK is difficult to read. They did play UCLA close in Maui the night before those same Bruins smacked Georgia Tech around. Of course UK then lost to Memphis by 17. UK has not really been that dominant even in their games against decidedly weaker teams.
The matchup of this game comes with Randolph Morris going up against Tyler Hansbrough. Morris declared for the NBA draft in 2005 but was not drafted and decided to return to school but sat at some games as part of a penalty. This season he is averaging 16 points per game as well as eight rebounds per contest. The rest of the Wildcat offense comes from a pair of guards in the form of Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley averaging 14 and 12 points respectively. The key for Kentucky as for any UNC opponent is to test the dribble penetration and work for those open threes UNC has had a penchant for surrendering on a regular basis.
And those are to two biggest issues UNC should really use this game and the seven after it to address. The defense is just not there yet and while I am thoroughly convinced Roy will get the UNC defense to the point it needs to be this game would serve as a good contest to see some marked improvement in this area. Offensively I think all eyes will be on Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington to see how much their excellent play from Wednesday night carries over. Lawson really stepped up against Ohio State and it would be nice to see him continue to improve and play at that level again. Another question is the continued gelling in the frontcourt with Hansbrough and Brandan Wright. The more these two continue to improve their chemistry on the court the better.
Over all I expect UNC might have some kinks following the OSU game, I think this is inevitable but they are also a better team in terms of personnel and depth as well as UK only employs eight regular players in their rotation.
UNC 88 Kentucky 78