While it’s not the Top 10 matchup we envisioned in the preseason, Saturday’s tilt with Kentucky is still full of intrigue for both teams — and should actually be a pretty good game if you’re asking this blogger. Here’s some reasons to be excited for the Tar Heel’s chances, which you might have already heard if you’ve listened to the latest podcast.
1) UNC and UK are startlingly similar statistically – say that three times fast. The below numbers come from Stat Sheet.
- UK scores 1.15 points per posession, while UNC scores 1.13
- Both teams are shooting around 45 percent from the floor (UNC 44.9%, UK 46.6%)
- Both teams are 28 percent from three (UNC 28%, UK 27.7%)
- Both squads are Top 7 in offensive rebounding percentage, but in the bottom half of the NCAA in defensive rebounding percentage (although UNC is much worse than UK in that regard, 190th to 311th respectively)
- Both are top 20 in assist-to-turnover ratio
- Both average about 8 steals per game (UK 8.2, UNC 8)
- In fact, just look at the Radar Chart below from Stat Sheet, which is supposed to give you a general sense of how teams compare:
The two graphs are nearly identical. Much has been made of UK’s talent, which in the raw sense is much better than Carolina’s, but production-wise they aren’t much different besides ridiculously high block numbers. We can’t just wash away those block numbers, but we just saw Columbia give the Wildcats a fight in Rupp, so it’s entirely possible that UNC is capable of pulling off the win.
2) Kentucky’s mojo is on the rocks right now
This one is purely speculative. After the shaky home game against Columbia this week, UK just lost junior forward Alex Poythress (above) for the season to a torn ACL. It also played without freshman phenoms Tyler Ullis and Devin Booker in the Columbia game due to injuries. As of this writing their statuses are unknown for Saturday. This might cause some rotation hiccups if UK is potentially down three significant contributors. Add to that a looming matchup with its arch rival and Top 5 team Louisville, and who knows how these 18-year-old kids are going to respond to a matchup that has lost a bit of luster since the season started. Could it be possible that a ranked UNC team is flying under their radar? Maybe.
3) We’ve seen this before. [Roy shrug]
Remember it was this very same team (minus the freshmen, obviously) that managed to lose to Belmont and UAB last year, but also defeat No. 3 Louisville, No. 1 Michigan State and No. 11 Kentucky. It’s not necessarily the sign of a great team if said team plays to the level of its competition, but that’s where we are so let’s roll with it. Those teams were arguably less talented than this year’s squad, which is a little older and helped by the great freshman class. It would be “such a Carolina move” to pull the upset in Rupp and then promptly drop our next game to UNC Greensboro. For the record, I’d be OK with that.
While Vegas doesn’t love our chances, hopefully the above breakdown has given you a glimmer of hope. The Tar Heels are heading to the land of that sweet, sweet liquid we know as bourbon, but let’s not turn to the bottle just yet.
BOLD Prediction: UNC 65, UK 63