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UNC vs. Kentucky: Three Things to Watch

This game will be fast, it will be heated, but most importantly, it will likely be very, very sloppy.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow the North Carolina Tar Heels will face off against the Kentucky Wildcats as part of the CBS Sports Classic. The Heels were initially scheduled to take on Ohio State in the event, but thanks to a bizarre decision to shuffle the teams, we now get to enjoy the next installment in the Blue Blood rivalry. The biggest difference this time around, however, is that Kentucky will be the unranked team between these two for the first time since 2008 when the Tar Heels blew them out 77-58.

While this matchup is a considerably better one than Ohio State, there still cause to be concerned for what may happen in this game. We are still trying to learn a good amount about both of these teams, as Roy Williams and John Calipari have their hands full trying to worth through some sizable issues with their guys. With that said, let’s take a look at three things to keep an eye out for in this game.

Terrance Clarke vs. Leaky Black

Despite Kentucky freshman Brandon Boston leading the team in scoring so far this season, the key player to keep an eye on in this game will be fellow freshman Terrance Clarke. The 6’7 guard has been one of the most efficient players for the Wildcats so far, shooting at a 49.1% clip from the field and shooting 31.3% from deep. What’s deceptive about his perimeter shooting is that after not making a single three in his first three games, Clarke made three of his four attempts against Georgia Tech, and two of his four against Notre Dame. In both of those games he finished with 22 points and 14 points, respectively.

Needless to say, the Heels will need to do everything they can to keep Clarke from getting hot. I’d expect Roy Williams to call Leaky Black’s number just as he did against Stanford’s Ziaire Williams. While things didn’t go very well for Black defensively against Iowa, he is still the team’s best option when it comes to keeping Clarke from getting hot. What’s tricky about Kentucky’s lineup is that two of their three guards are 6’7, so that likely means that Caleb Love will have to guard Brandon Boston. The good news is that Boston is shooting 38.7% from the field, so the size advantage he has over Love may not mean much as long as he continues to struggle with his shot.

Obligatory Turnover Rant

Alright, so I’m sure we all knew this conversation was coming, but it’s a hard one to ignore. In their first six games UNC has averaged a sub-optimal 16.5 turnovers per game, which eclipses last year’s 12.9 average. As it stands right now, it is the highest turnover average since the 2009-10 team averaged 15.4 per game. To be fair, there are two things to keep in mind: we are only six games in and this stat will ideally change, and also this type of thing should be expected early in the season with two freshmen point guards.

If there is good news to be found, it is that Kentucky averages more turnovers than the Tar Heels. They are currently averaging 16.8 turnovers per game, with Terrance Clarke committing the most on the team, as he currently averages 3.4 per contest. These two teams usually play a very fast-paced game, so if the Heels can find a way to limit their turnovers against the Wildcats and take advantage of the turnovers that they will likely be able to generate, it’ll be hard to not come out of this one victorious.

Last Minute Swap

One has to wonder what conversations were had with all four teams participating in the CBS Sports Classic. It is mind-boggling to think that all four coaches would agree to play a completely different opponent just three days before game day, as there is a good amount of preparation that takes place when getting ready for a specific opponent. Alas, this is the hand that was dealt, and now both Kentucky and UNC will go into this game more blind than they would otherwise.

The biggest question in this game will be which team will be able to adapt to the situation better, and thankfully UNC will have a very slight edge in this department. They are coming off of a game against NC Central, which was a late addition to their schedule after Elon had to cancel. Granted, things did not look the prettiest against the Eagles, but the Heels were able to come away with the victory regardless.

At the end of the day, this game will be important for both teams because this is the kind of thing that every single team in the NCAA should expect this season. COVID has made an absolute mess of things, and I wouldn’t be surprised if UNC has to shuffle around numerous games due to positive tests and/or overall COVID protocols. The Heels should get used to it now, and use this as a learning experience that can help them conquer the ACC gauntlet starting next week.