Five keys to victory: Kentucky vs North Carolina

Kentucky is 0-2 in neutral site games this season but they get another shot at a win on Saturday. It will not be an easy test for the young Cats because North Carolina is a top 10 team. The Tar Heels are coming off a big win against Gonzaga. Kentucky has not picked up a marquee win this season and this game will be a chance to change that. Here are five keys to victory for the Cats to knock off the heels.

  1. Crash the glass– The Cats are one of the best rebounding teams in the country according to the numbers but they have not done well in that area against power 5 teams. UNC is always a good rebounding team and they are great at creating fast break opportunities off of defensive rebounds. That makes offensive rebounding a crucial factor for Kentucky. On the other side of the court they have to limit the Tar Heels second chance opportunities. It has to be a team effort all the way down to the guards but it all starts with Reid Travis and PJ Washington. That duo has to come in with a mindset that they own the glass and every rebound is theirs. 
  2. Get back on defense-It is no secret that the Tar Heels want to run, run, run any chance they get. They run off of made baskets by opponents and off of defensive rebounds as well. The main way they do it is by simply beating their man down the floor. Typically it is their big men that create an advantage by sprinting the court. It will happen some but the key is for Kentucky to keep it to a minimum. Reid, PJ, Nick and EJ had better be ready to fly up the floor on Saturday.
  3. Defend the 3 point shot– The Cats have not been great at defending the deep ball to this point and that needs to change on Saturday. The Heels have multiple high level shooters to defend. Their most lethal shooter is 6’9 swing mas Cameron Johnson who is making 49% from three this season. Keldon Johnson will have to work hard to limit the open looks that Cameron Johnson gets. Coby White is a lightning quick point guard for UNC that is also a 42% 3 point shooter. Add in Luke Maye and Kenny Williams, who both hit over 40% of their 3’s last season and you have a team capable of getting very hot from deep. Running them off the line or forcing them to take deep contested 3’s seems to be the best plan of defense.
  4. Attack the paint– North Carolina does not have much in terms of interior defense. That means that the Cats must look to feed Reid Travis and PJ Washington in the paint as much as possible. Keldon Johnson must also look to attack the paint by driving the ball aggressively. Luke Maye is a very good college player but the Cats must exploit him on defense. If he is guarding either Reid or PJ and they can isolate him it would make a lot of sense to post him up whenever possible. The lone true shot blocker on their roster is freshman Garrison Brooks, so the Cats must look to post or drive the ball any time he is out of the game. 
  5. Make some shots from deep– The Cats are coming off their best shooting performance of the season and it will need to continue against UNC. Because of the advantage that Kentucky has in the paint, the Heels will probably play pick your poison and try to force the Cats to beat them from outside. Kentucky doesn’t have to make them all but they need to make at least 7 or 8 of them to have a chance in this game. It really doesn’t matter who makes them as long as someone does. It sure seems like the perfect game for Tyler Herro to get hot, and it would not shock me in the least if it happens. Even if Herro can’t get it going the Cats have Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Jemarl Baker and even Reid and PJ who can get the job done. 

It should be a high scoring game that will be fun to watch. After the Duke blowout to start the season fans are afraid that something similar will happen against UNC but that would be very shocking. I see this as a coin toss type of game that could go either way. Since predicting the Cats to win these type of games has not worked out so well this year, I say North Carolina wins a nail biter 81-79. As Cal says, this is a win or learn type of game that will help a young team figure out how to play.

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