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Game Preview: #21 UNC at #1 Kentucky

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina at Kentucky, 12:00 PM, CBS

Marcus Paige, please report to Rupp Arena.

This game boils down to a pretty simple formula for UNC, one Roy Williams stated succinctly in his press conference on Friday. UNC needs to do everything well. Against some teams UNC can get away with lapses at one position or one element of the game. Playing #1 ranked Kentucky on its home floor means there is no such margin of error. UNC needs much of what happened against East Carolina to happen again plus a big game from Marcus Paige.

The junior guard, despite leading UNC in scoring at 14.0 ppg, really hasn't had a game to this point that looks like a preseason All-American or anywhere close to some of the epic performances of last season. UNC running the offense through the post certainly has something to do with that but given the Tar Heels still need perimeter scoring, Paige's decline in shooting numbers compared last season have been a cause for concern. More than that, everyone keeps watching and waiting for that one big game. Playing #1 Kentucky on the road provides such an opportunity with Paige showing last season he was more than capable of playing at a high level in big games.

The real challenge in this game for UNC is the degree to which Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks can be effective against the big and deep Wildcat frontline. Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and Dakari Johnson have offensive efficiency ratings of 134.1, 117.6 and 121.5 respectfully. Towns is third nationally in block percentage and 44th in defensive rebounding rate. Cauley-Stein has been very good of late with 21 points and 12 rebounds last week against Texas.

There are not many games where UNC will faced comparable or greater talent in the post. Meeks has shown himself to be a crafty scorer with this being his toughest test. Johnson, who snapped out of his slump versus ECU, will need the same kind of consistent effort and willingness to battle against the Kentucky bigs for rebounds. Given the Wildcat depth in the post, the Tar Heels will need all hands on deck, especially if there are early fouls. Rebounding, especially on the defensive end will be critical and not something UNC has done well so far.

This is a game the Tar Heels can win. Kentucky's offensive production through ten games hasn't been so much the Wildcats can run away and hide, especially against a defense that has played extremely well so far. UNC's offensive production has suffered at times but UNC has the athleticism and a big game scorer to make a run at Kentucky. It is a tall order but doable if the right pieces fall into place.

UNC 75 Kentucky 70