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UNC vs. Kentucky: Game Preview

A look at tonight’s top ten battle in Las Vegas

Davidson v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In one of the most anticipated games of the season thus far, the North Carolina Tar Heels will face off against the Kentucky Wildcats tonight in the CBS Sports Classic at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tip off will be at 5:45 PM ET, or after the conclusion of the first game of the CBS Sports Classic. Ohio State and UCLA are scheduled for 3:00 PM ET. Both games will be broadcast on CBS.

When looking down the stat line, these two teams are evenly matched. Will the experienced Tar Heels make better decisions against the young Wildcats? Or will UK’s talented and deep roster outwork a Carolina team that has struggled to execute on the offensive end of the floor?

North Carolina

As mentioned in the article UNC vs. Kentucky: Three things to watch, Carolina point guard Joel Berry II will be the biggest question mark for this game. Without the junior playmaker on the floor, the Tar Heels have struggled. Coach Roy Williams and the basketball staff have remained quiet this week about Berry’s recovery from an ankle sprain. Tar Heel fans felt some relief last night when the program announced Berry was expected to play against Kentucky:

Even with uncertainty about Berry, the Tar Heels still have a chance to win. The emphasis for the UNC offense must be in the paint. The primary focus, of course, should be getting quality chances for Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley in high percentage areas. But positioning for those offensive rebounds and second-chance points will be critical to success. Kentucky’s backcourt will have a size advantage over Carolina’s guards, and have had success pulling down missed shots. The Tar Heels need to be aware of UK’s two and three coming down to support their forwards on the defensive glass.

Carolina’s positioning on the defensive end of the court will be of equal importance. Meeks and Hicks cannot get into foul trouble in the first half. UNC needs their three big men to contribute on both ends of the court, and having all three available without concerns about foul trouble will maintain Carolina’s competitive advantage in the frontcourt. Kentucky guard Malik Monk likes to create space for jumpers. Another UK guard, Isaiah Briscoe, likes to drive to the basket. The importance of the guards in this match up was discussed in Michael Foy’s article on Thursday. Nate Britt, Kenny Williams III, and Joel Berry must be aware of each player’s offensive tendencies and adjust accordingly.


The Wildcats are young, talented, and deep. The versatility of their lineup may cause match up issues for UNC, especially with their tall guards. UK has four players averaging double figures for the year, including the 6-10 freshman from Little Washington, Bam Adebayo.

Kentucky, like Carolina, likes to get out and run. The interchangeable parts for UK in the backcourt makes the transition game even more important in this game. If Kentucky forces their offensive plan on UNC, especially in the first ten minutes of the game, the Tar Heels may struggle in the half court and might not be able to recover from an early deficit.

The downside for UK having so many interchangeable parts is that a disruptive UNC defense could force Kentucky to lose their rhythm with substitutions, opening the door for one of those Carolina runs at the end of the first half.

Expected Lineups:



Kennedy Meeks – F – SR

Derek Willis – F – SR

Isaiah Hicks – F – SR

Bam Adebayo – F- FR

Justin Jackson – F – JR

Malik Monk – G – FR

Kenny Williams – G – SO

Isaiah Briscoe – G – SO

Joel Berry – G – JR

De’Aaron Fox – G – FR

UNC will win if they

  • Establish an advantage on the inside early in the game
  • Convert turnovers into points
  • Disrupt Kentucky’s offensive rhythm

Kentucky will win if they

  • Find mismatches on offense
  • Limit UNC’s offensive rebounds
  • Outhustle Carolina’s frontcourt