UNC Basketball: CBS Sports Classic Preview vs Kentucky

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 5: Armando Bacot #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels in action against the Connecticut Huskies during a game in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 5, 2023 in New York City. Connecticut defeated North Carolina 87-76. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 5: Armando Bacot #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels in action against the Connecticut Huskies during a game in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 5, 2023 in New York City. Connecticut defeated North Carolina 87-76. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

After an 11-day hiatus, the UNC Basketball program will head to another neutral site this weekend to face Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic.

The UNC Basketball program will be entering the CBS Sports Classic Matchup with No. 14 Kentucky coming off an 11-day hiatus following its 87-76 loss to the No. 5 Connecticut Huskies in Madison Square Garden on December 5th. A game that was viewed as a measuring stick for the Tar Heels in the third season under Hubert Davis went as expected versus the very efficient defending National Champions.

441. . 5:30 PM ET. 528. CBS/Paramount+. Saturday, Dec 16. 7-2. 7-2

Now, the Tar Heels will get a chance to redeem themselves against another quality opponent in No. 14 ranked Kentucky, once again on a neutral site. The Wildcats have looked great at times this season, including a 95-73 home victory over Miami in the ACC/SEC Challenge, and not so great at times, dropping a “pay game” to UNC-Wilmington at home 80-73.

Key to Victory for North Carolina

Once again, the UNC Basketball program will be facing a very efficient and effective offense that is loaded with plenty of talent. The Wildcats are 13th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom, which is the second-best offense the Tar Heels have faced this season (Connecticut is No. 4). Hubert Davis’ squad must focus on defense and containing Kentucky on the offensive end.

John Calipari’s team averages 90.6 points per game, and it isn’t all from just one or two players. Kentucky has six players currently averaging double-figures scoring and a seventh who averages 9.8 points per game. Similar to the previous matchup in MSG with Connecticut, the Wildcats do an excellent job of sharing the basketball, averaging 19.6 assists per game (for comparison, UConn is at 18.9 assists per game and had 25 on 34 made baskets against North Carolina).

In both of their losses this year, to Kansas and UNC-Wilmington, the Wildcats lost the rebounding battle, 45-42 and 40-39, respectively. Against the Seahawks, Kentucky also was limited from three-point range, only converting 5-17 from beyond the arc.

Needless to say, winning the battle on the boards and playing solid defense will be crucial for the Tar Heels to secure a quality, resume-building win in December on a neutral site in Atlanta.

Something to Watch For

It feels like this could be a problem all year, but the size of Kentucky versus the size of North Carolina will certainly be something to watch, especially at the guard position. RJ Davis (six-foot-zero) and Elliot Cadeau (six-foot-one) will have their hands full with the Wildcats’ guards who stand six-foot-three (or taller).

The leading scorer for Kentucky is six-foot-six senior Antonio Reeves, with 18 points per game. Cormac Ryan and Seth Trimble will likely draw the defensive assignment on Reeves, and the Tar Heels will need a great performance from each of them. The other two Kentucky guards, Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham, are both six-foot-three.

We’ve seen bigger guards this season attempt to post up the North Carolina guards, specifically RJ Davis. How Hubert Davis counters the athleticism and size of Kentucky will be critical in the Tar Heels coming out victorious on Saturday.

Kentucky is also forcing 9.4 steals per game. Expect the Wildcats to attempt to pressure the young freshman Cadeau, hoping he makes a mistake. Cadeau has been great against top competition, including a 10 assists and zero turnover performance against SEC opponent Tennessee.

Last Meeting

These two programs have a storied history in college basketball and match up often on the college basketball landscape on the biggest stages. The most recent matchup came on December 18th, 2021, in Las Vegas, Nevada, in this same event, the CBS Sports Classic. That day was not very kind to the Tar Heels.

In Hubert Davis’ first year as head coach, the Tar Heels shot a horrendous 1-13 from three-point range, while Kentucky was 8-15 from beyond the arc in a 98-69 Wildcat victory. North Carolina was out-rebounded 44-26 and turned the ball over 12 times. Armando Bacot and RJ Davis were the only Tar Heels to score in double figures with 22 and 10 points, respectively.

To no one’s surprise, with the day and age of the transfer portal and one-and-done era, only four players who made an appearance in that game will be on the rosters in Atlanta on Saturday. Davis and Bacot are the North Carolina representatives. For the Wildcats, Brennan Canada and Kareem Watkins played one minute each in that 98-69 Kentucky win two years ago. Both have seen limited action this year as well, playing a combined four minutes this year.

The UNC Basketball team will look completely different than that December day almost two years ago, but it is safe to say that RJ Davis and Armando Bacot will be very impactful for the Tar Heels on Saturday.

Projected Starters

No. 2 Elliot Cadeau (Fr. 6-1, 180) 7.1 ppg, 1.6 rbpg, 4.1 apg

No. 3 Cormac Ryan (Sr. 6-5, 195) 10.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.8 apg

No. 4 RJ Davis (Sr. 6-0, 180) 21.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.7 apg

No. 5 Armando Bacot (Gr. 6-11, 240) 15.9 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 1.4 apg

No. 55 Harrison Ingram (Jr. 6-7, 235) 15.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.6 apg

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