Christmas will come early for college hoops fan across the nation as the 6th ranked Kentucky Wildcats take on the 7th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2017 CBS Sports Classic. Here’s what to look for in Saturday’s matchup.
Don’t Blink Because You Might Miss Something
There are teams that like to go fast and then there’s Kentucky and North Carolina. The Wildcats rank 4th nationally in time of possession with just 13.5 seconds and the Tar Heels are 14th with 14.4 seconds. So what does this mean for Saturday’s game? Roy Williams and the Tar Heels will have their hands full and the Heels’ head coach acknowledged that in the team’s press conference leading up to the game.
“What we have to do for sure is run back better on the defensive end, to make sure that we get our defensive transition set. A lot of people say you should run a running team. Most of the time I really like that, but I guess wait until after those forty minutes are up on Saturday and I’ll tell you if I really liked it.”
Roy isn’t the only one who’s ready to run. Kentucky head coach John Calipari said you’ll probably hear both coaches yelling the same thing on the sideline.
“I think both of us will be trying to slow down the other team, as far as getting back. You’ll hear him: ‘Get back!’ And you’re going to hear me: ‘Get back!’ We’ll both be yelling that probably 100 times a half. But they’re fast, we’re fast. It probably will come down to if you don’t get it quickly, who’s the better execution team?”
You hate to break down a game of this magnitude to one thing, but the team that’s able to slow down the other will have the clear advantage in this matchup.
How will Joel Berry Look Coming Off Injury?
The Tar Heels noticeably missed their floor general, Joel Berry, in their last two games against Davidson and Tennessee, but the junior point guard who has been nursing an ankle sprain suffered in UNC’s game against Radford, is expected to make his return for Saturday’s Blue Blood matchup. There’s no question that North Carolina is a different team when Berry is on the floor and his team high 4.6 assists per game and 14.8 points per game will certainly be welcome by Roy Williams. But just yesterday he wasn’t sure if Berry would be available.
“I am not optimistic at all, but I’m not pessimistic either. I haven’t seen him. I have no opinion.”
There’s no question that a player as competitive as Berry would do everything necessary to play in a high profile game like this one, but if he isn’t completely healthy, will he be able to play the uptempo style game that’s inevitable, because if his ankle doesn’t allow him to keep up, he could do more harm than good.
Which Front Court Will Show Up for the Tar Heels?
Justin Jackson and Joel Berry have emerged as the Tar Heels’ offensive leaders, but UNC is nearly unstoppable when big men Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks have good games. They’ve already shown they can control the boards, North Carolina is ranked 4th nationally in defensive rebounds, but when they combine that with efficiency on the offensive side of the ball, they’ll give any team, including the Wildcats, trouble. So which Hicks and Meeks will we see in Vegas? Will we see the duo that dominated impressively in Maui or will we see the guys who struggled against Tennessee? Roy and company will need the Maui monsters on Saturday.
- Kentucky has yet to beat a ranked opponent this season. Their only loss came to now 2nd ranked UCLA.
- Carolina is the only school that has beaten Kentucky at least ten times and has a winning record (23-14) against the Wildcats.
- The Wildcats won the last meeting between these two teams in December of 2014, 84-70 in Lexington.
Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 14.8 ppg, 4.7 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) – 12.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) – 12.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 15.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg
24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) – 7.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg
Projected Kentucky Starters:
5 Malik Monk (6-3, 200, Fr.) – 19.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg
12 Isaiah Briscoe (6-3, 210, So.) – 16.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg
0 De’Aaron Fox (6-3, 187, Fr.) – 15.1 ppg, 6.9 apg
3 Edrice Adebayo (6-10, 260, Fr.) – 12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg
35 Derek Willis (6-9, 228, Sr.) – 7.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Date: Saturday, Dec. 12
Time: 5:45 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada