On Saturday, the Dean E. Smith Center should be as loud and as crazy as it’s been all season. Simple reason, the #11 ranked Kentucky Wildcats are coming to Chapel Hill to face the #18 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. It’s great to see this series renewed, (after a one year hiatus) as it’s one of the more highly anticipated non conference match-ups each season. In order for the Heels to win this “reunion” of UNC Kentucky, here’s a few things they must do.
Get off to a fast start: For a team who doesn’t have the firepower to play catch up, it’s huge that the Heels don’t’ dig themselves a hole. If UNC can make some early spots and get the crowd into this one, it could rattle the young Wildcats, who will be playing their first road game of the season. A quick start would also put pressure on Kentucky to score, and like Carolina, they sometimes struggle doing that. So if the Tar Heels gets off to a start like they did at Michigan State, it should end in the same result.
Make Kentucky shoot jump shots: In my opinion, this group of Wildcats just can’t shoot. Sounds familiar huh? Freshman guard James Young can definitely stroke it, but that’s where it stops. UK’s top long-range shooter by percentage is freshman guard Andrew Harrison (38.1), however over the last 5 games he’s just 1 of 10 from beyond the arc. Combine that with his twin brother Aaron, who is shooting 30.4 percent from downtown, and it would be nuts for Carolina not to make this team prove they can make jump shots consistently. Although I’m not a fan of the zone defense, Roy Williams should think about using some zone in this contest.
Marcus Paige: Sometimes stars have to be stars and UNC needs a big game from theirs. Marcus has been the Tar Heels best player as well as the go to guy. In this game, it will be vital that Paige makes a handful of long-range shots, in order to loosen up the “D” of the cats. If he making shots early and often, it’s should open up the floor for his teammates to do some real damage. Bottom line, #5 needs to be on the floor. If he can refrain from picking up cheap fouls while defending one of the 6’6 Harrison Twins not to mention, prevent himself from running out of gas physically… he should be quite alright. UNC will need both his leadership and his sweet left-handed stroke to win this one.
Attack the glass: As well all know by now, if Carolina wins the battle of the boards, they probably will win the game and this one should be no different. Kentucky’s star freshman forward Julius Randle is gobbling up 12.0 boards per game and his front-court mate center Willie Cauley-Stein is pulling down 7.7 rebounds per game in his own right, so the Heels will need to be relentless on the glass for 40 minutes. Initially, it will be James Michael McAdoo and Joel James’ responsibility to keep UK off the backboards. When Ol’Roy goes to the bench, the team’s top two rebounders, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks must come in their continue their stellar board work. We should keep a close eye on this stat, because who ever wins this category, will win this game!