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2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels Game Preview

We only have a couple of weeks until one of the most anticipated match-ups of the entire 2011-12 college basketball season as the North Carolina Tar Heels will bring their (if they remain unbeaten) number 1 ranking into Rupp Arena to face the number 2 (also, if they remain unbeaten) Kentucky Wildcats.

This game will feature size and speed but the focus will be on the size of both team's post players as North Carolina can certainly match Kentucky's length.

There will be a monumental match-up between Tyler Zeller and Anthony Davis but my focus will be on forward play and perimeter shooting. We know Kentucky can absolutely shoot the lights out beyond the arc but North Carolina will have to prove they match Kentucky's dead eye shooting. This game may quickly turn into a stalemate inside and may be decided from from the perimeter.

Perimeter Shooting

Lets look at North Carolina's outside shooting thus far in this young season. North Carolina shot a dismal 33.3% percent from beyond the arc during their win against Michigan State on the Navy Aircraft Carrier the Carl Vinson. But we must take into account that it was the first game of the season, they were playing a defensively tough Michigan State squad and after-all - the game was played on the deck of a Navy ship. But the Tar Heels didn't fare much better during their easy win against UNC-Asheville, shooting an atrocious 28.6 percent on 2 for 7 shooting from three.

Kentucky on the other hand shot a respectful 40% during the thumping of Marist and shot near lights out at 46.7% against a tough Kansas team. Even though it is still very early in the 2011-12 season it certainly appears that Kentucky, as expected, has the upper hand in the outside shooting department and this fact may, and probably will, decide the outcome of Kentucky's December 3rd match-up against the Tar Heels.

In the Paint

I can in no way see the Tar Heels dominating our front-line, yes they do have an imposing shot blocker in John Henson but in the first two games of the season he is inconsistent at best tallying 9 blocks against a much smaller Michigan State team while only achieving 2 blocks against an inferior UNC-Asheville team. So far the shot blocking contest belongs to the Kentucky Wildcats as they have blocked 13 shots in each of their first two games against Marist and Kansas while North Carolina garnered 11 blocks against Michigan State and only 3 blocks against UNC-Asheville.

In the rebounding dept North Carolina was out rebounded by a much smaller Michigan State team 42 to 31. By those rebounding stats alone it is simply amazing that North Carolina won that game and if it wasn't for the multitude of missed shots by Michigan State under the basket the Tar Heels would have spent only one game as the number one team in the nation. Michigan State also won the offensive rebounding war 19 to 7 as a result of all those missed shots under the basket. It is also telling that the 6-7 Draymond Green was able to snatch 18 boards against the Tar Heels. North Carolina's leading rebounder was John Henson with only 7 boards. Kentucky and Kansas were deadlocked at 34 (UK) to 33 (KU) on the boards in that Kentucky victory.

If Kentucky neutralizes the shock blocking of John Henson and also shuts down Tyler Zeller it could be a mighty long day for the Tar Heels because, unless North Carolina has the game of their lives, I cannot see how North Carolina will keep pace with Kentucky's speed and perimeter shooting. If Kentucky plays a discombobulated game then the Tar Heels may walk away with a victory on December 3rd but I expect Kentucky to be pumped for this match-up as they have already been tested by a good Kansas team in the Garden so the jitters should be eliminated from the equation for our freshmen loaded team.

So the match-up inside (size) is about even and the perimeter game goes to UK and it appears this game will come down to perimeter shooting.

Bench Production

Another factor in this game, and may actually turn out to be the most important factor, is bench production. UK fans were riding the hype train when reserve forward Kyle Wiltjer broke-out and scored 26 in an exhibition and 14 against Marist but the talented 6-9 shooter did not score and only played 3 minutes against Kansas. His brief appearance tells me that Calipari did not have confidence that Wiltjer could keep up defensively against the physical Kansas forwards This should be a red flag for UK fans as Wiltjer will need to provide more than 3 minutes against the Tar Heels as we can expect more than few fouls considering the inside match-ups.

UK fans were also hoping that Eloy Vargus may be able to be a productive bench player while providing relief for Anthony Davis this year. While Vargus scored 5 points and grabbed 9 rebounds against Marist he provided the Cats only 2 rebounds and no points against Kansas and quite frankly resembled the Vargus we knew last year. Miller came off the bench against Kansas and managed to score 5 points and and 4 assists in 20 minutes of play. Kentucky will simply not be able to solely rely on their starters game after game. UK will eventually find themselves in foul trouble and will have to rely on a solid bench.

So even though the hype machine is in full force here in the Commonwealth Kentucky does have some deficiencies and the bench is one of them. North Carolina on the other hand only managed 13 total points and 7 total rebounds from their bench against Michigan State, not exactly a grammy award winning performance by the Tar Heel bench. When we look at the garbage games UK's bench dominated with 31 points and 21 rebounds against Marist but North Carolina only managed 16 points and 8 rebounds against UNC-Asheville.

Teague and Marshall

Bench production may become a huge factor if Marquis Teague continues to foul the way he has. He has committed 4 fouls in both games for the Wildcats and if he gets into early foul trouble we will have to rely on Dorin Lamb, who is very capable of running the offensive, to pick-up the slack. If Lamb has to run the offense Darius Miller will no doubt have to step up and hit shots. Teague will no doubt be facing his toughest opponent, maybe all year, in Kendall Marshall. Teague is quicker than Marshall but Marshall is a proven floor general so I would expect Marshall to go at Teague very hard early in this game and try and force Teague into a few early fouls. Teague will have to be a point guard in this game and not a shooter. Teague's 3 or 4 assists per game will not cut it against North Carolina. .

Turnovers

Kentucky, so far, has a slight edge in the turnover dept as the Cats have committed 28 total turnovers this season, 19 against Kansas alone. We racked up most of those turnovers in the first half and we can chalk some of those to freshmen jitters. UK only committed 9 turnovers in their route of Marist. North Carolina has committed 31 total turnovers this season.

If Kentucky forces, say, 15 or more North Carolina turnovers the Tar Heels may be routed as Kentucky can score in bunches in transition, and in a hurry. The athleticism of UK cannot be matched by any team in the country so we know UK has that advantage. Seeing how North Carolina has played thus far early in this season one cannot use stats to give the Tar Heels the advantage. Experience? yes, the Tar Heels are more experienced but when UK hits the floor with intensity no one in the country can match that. This game will come down to a few factors but if UK can keep the turnovers to a minimum and play with defensive intensity then it could be a long day for the Tar Heel's

Prediction: UK 88 ----- UNC 72

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