Just 30 minutes separate us and tipoff between Kentucky and North Carolina. The Cats look to complete a perfect non-conference home slate and improve their record to 11-0. For UNC the Tarheels can grab a signature win and knock off the number 1 team in the land. How can UK keep that from happening? One way would be by dominating these three match-ups:
Andrew Harrison Vs Marcus Paige
Last year in Chapel Hill, Marcus Paige proved to be the difference as he went off for 22 points in the second half and exposed Andrew Harrison’s subpar defense. Since then Andrew has retooled his game almost completely. Gone are the ill-advised shots and drives looking to get fouled. In their place is team first basketball and a commitment to playing tough defense that trusts in his big men if he gets beat. Marcus Paige will be a great measuring stick for how much Andrew has improved over the past year. Throw in Tyler Ulis to pester the Tarheel’s star point guard and the Cats should be able to keep him out of rhythm. Without a big game from Paige it’s hard to see how UNC can win.
Kennedy Meeks Vs Willie Cauley-Stein
Last season Kennedy Meeks scored just 1 point in 19 minutes of action against the Cats. This season Meeks has leaned up and is leading the Tarheels in rebounding thanks in part to that improved conditioning. The Tarheels are third in the nation in rebounds per game and the battle at the boards could be a deciding factor. In last year’s game Willie totaled only five points but he was stellar on the defensive side of the ball with 5 blocks and 12 rebounds. At 6’9 Meeks is going to have trouble scoring against and defending the likes of WCS, Karl Towns, and Dakari. Kennedy has been UNC’s most consistent player this season, control him and Brice Johnson and you control the game.
J.P. Tokoto Vs Trey Lyles
Last season JP Tokoto got the better of James Young with what seemed like point after point coming off of UK turnovers. Now with Poythress done for the year someone is going to need to step up at the 3 position and defend Tokoto on the wing. Three point shooting and shots from the outside are going to be key for UNC so Tokoto will need to be contained. JP is also leading the heels in assists this season so using the length of Trey Lyles to get into his passing lanes should be the plan. Can Willis come in and defend Tokoto as well? That’s a big time question mark but I wouldn’t be shocked if Cal gives him a look.