UNC vs. Kentucky: the preview

Will North Carolina beat its third ranked team of the season on Saturday? Stay tuned ...
Will North Carolina beat its third ranked team of the season on Saturday? Stay tuned ... Robert Willett -- rwillett@newsobserver.com

And welcome, folks, to The NandO McCauley Street bunker, where in just a little while I’ll be making the short jaunt over to the Smith Center for North Carolina-Kentucky.

I have some thoughts about this basketball game but, first, I’d remiss if I didn’t share a little story (a long story, actually, in the newspaper world) about Jonas Sahratian, the Tar Heels’ strength and conditioning coach. Give it a read.

Sahratian is the man behind UNC’s muscle. He spent the summer months attempting to rebuild the Tar Heels physically.

On to the preview:

No. 18 UNC vs. No. 11 Kentucky

When: 5:15 p.m.

Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill

TV/Radio: ESPN/101.5-WRAL

Projected starting lineups

UNC (6-2)

G Nate Britt 5.6 ppg, 2.5 apg

G Marcus Paige 18.8 ppg, 4.5 apg

F J.P. Tokoto 9.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg

F James Michael McAdoo 13 ppg, 5.9 rpg

F Joel James 4 ppg, 4.8 rpg

Kentucky (8-2)

G Andrew Harrison 10.3 ppg, 3.5 apg

G Aaron Harrison 13.8 ppg, 3 rpg

F James Young 13.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg

F Julius Randle 17.8 ppg, 11.9 rpg

F Willie Cauley-Stein 9.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg

Player to watch

Julius Randle, forward, Kentucky

Randle began the season with seven consecutive double-doubles, and he’s had double-digit points and rebounds in eight of the Wildcats’ first 10 games. A little more than a month into his college career, Randle is already considered to be among the best players in the nation, and he’s in an elite class of freshmen that includes Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins. The Tar Heels might not face another forward as good as Randle until they see Parker, but Randle is a different kind of player. He’s a load on the interior, and he’ll offer UNC’s frontcourt its most difficult test to date.

Observations: Which UNC team will show up today? Marcus Paige, the sophomore guard, acknowledged earlier this week that it’s been easier for the Tar Heels “to get up” for games like these. … UNC coach Roy Williams is seeking more offensive balance, and with good reason. The Tar Heels’ 23 3-pointers this season rank 347th nationally. … This is the third game against a ranked team for UNC, which already defeated then-No. 3 Louisville and then-No. 1 Michigan State. … Kennedy Meeks, the Tar Heels’ freshman forward, had his two best games against Louisville (13 points and 12 rebounds) and Michigan State (15 points and seven rebounds). Kentucky, according to KenPom.com, is the least experienced team in the nation. Four of Kentucky’s starters are freshmen.


1. Avoid foul trouble.

Kentucky has been one of the best teams in the nation at getting to the free throw line, in part because Julius Randle, the freshman forward, is so difficult to defend in the post. The Wildcats generate 27.8 percent of their points at the free throw line – the 19th highest percentage in the nation. The byproduct of getting to the line a lot, of course, is that the other team picks up a lot of fouls. UNC can’t afford to have Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks in foul trouble.

2. Limit Kentucky’s second-chance opportunities.

This will be difficult, because Kentucky is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation. The Wildcats’ offensive rebounding percentage of 46.1 leads the nation. Randle is averaging double-figures in rebounding, and Cauley-Stein, a 7-footer, is an adept and natural rebounder, as well.

3. Capitalize on transition opportunities.

It’s not a coincidence that UNC excelled in transition during its victories against both Louisville and Michigan State. Kentucky’s size is likely to make things difficult on the Tar Heels in the half court, and so creating points in transition – always important for coach Roy Williams – will be even more so today. The Tar Heels need to rebound misses and get on the run.


College Basketball Stats

See you at the Smith Center.