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Kentucky Basketball: Picking Through The Wreckage Of The UNC Game

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"Defend somebody, will ya?"

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Gerry Broome – AP

“Defend somebody, will ya?”

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This morning, I got up with a hangover.  Not a hangover from an excess of adult beverages, mind you, but a hangover from a game that the Kentucky Wildcats should have won.  Lounging around the house for a few hours massaging my badly bruised fandom seemed like the best recovery method other than a Bloody Mary, which I rejected on “not on vacation” grounds.  Ultimately, watching Charlie’s Angels (the movie) again was my cure, which was worth suffering through the weak storyline, predictable dialogue and lame humor if only to watch Cameron Diaz dance in her delicates, and Drew Barrymore roll down a big hill in the altogether.

With that now in the rear view, it seems time to put the nose to the proverbial grindstone and employ time-tested forensic techniques in order to determine exactly what went wrong in the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.  I know, I know, we have gone over many of the more obvious problems in the game thread and postmortem, and rehashing those is not really productive.  Instead, it should behoove us to compare our perceptions against statistics to see how accurate they were.

So the first thing we will be doing is examining the Four Factors to Winning, and see what those tell us, after the jump.

The Four Factors look like this:

Now, I confess to being a bit surprised when I saw this.  For all the world, I thought we got killed on the offensive glass, but that simply was not so.  Yes, the Tar Heels did beat us on the offensive boards, but it was not the utter domination first impression suggested.  19%-23% is simply not a drubbing in any sense of the word.

Why did it look so bad?  Probably because there were a few more OR’s available to the Tar Heels, and it just felt like Kentucky was not getting the job done.  Another problem was that when UK did get an OR, they did not convert it, and the Tar Heels did.  The Heels more than doubled UK’s production in second-chance points, 11-5, despite only a 4% advantage in the OR% statistic.  In other words, they were much more efficient with their OR’s than UK.

No, the real culprit for this loss is pretty easy to see.  UNC more than doubled UK’s free throw rate percent, which means the number of free throws attempted per field goal attempt.  North Carolina shot more than half a free throw for every field goal attempt, or converted into a better number, shot a free throw slightly more than once for every two shots they took. Kentucky shot free throws only once for every three shots they put up.  Right there lies the roots of Kentucky’s defeat.  It was only as close as it was because Carolina was so ordinary in FT%, although they did shoot much better than they have been of late.

Another problem that Kentucky had was how well the Tar Heels took care of the basketball.  UNC had been turning the ball over at over 22% per game.  For instance, against the Vanderbilt Commodores, they turned the ball over on almost one possession in three.  Against Kentucky, their TO% was less than half that.

This is a continuing problem for Kentucky.  The ‘Cats simply are not forcing enough turnovers in games, and that speaks volumes about their defense.  Good teams, like the Duke Bllue Devils and the Ohio State Buckeyes are forcing around 25% or more turnovers versus their opponents.  If UK had forced Carolina into those kind of turnovers, they would have likely won the game based on their points off turnover production.  Smaller teams like Kentucky should be able to turn over bigger teams at a higher rate than this.

In the final analysis, the story of this game is a simple one.  Kentucky did not play defense well enough to win, and Carolina got to the line an excessive amount.  The offensive rebounding of UNC was a comparatively minor contributing factor.  Failure to turn over the vulnerable UNC ballhandlers was, in my opinion, a bigger factor than the OR% difference.  Fouls, ultimately, were what lost the game, both in terms of fouls to our big people and FTR%.

This is a good shooting, good ballhalding Kentucky team, but it has a long way to go defensively.  Depending on DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller for good defense on the primary scorers is fine, and it usually works, but the larger problem for this team is that they simply don’t get after it on defense enough.  Until they do, these kind of losses will keep cropping up.

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Kentucky Falls at North Carolina

Tyler Zeller scored a career-high 27 points and hit the go-ahead free throws with 47 seconds left, helping North Carolina edge past No. 10 Kentucky 75-73 on Saturday. Zeller scored 12 of the final 16 points for the Tar Heels (5-3), who earned a needed victory against a big-name opponent after struggling the first month of the season. John Henson added 13 points and 12 rebounds, giving North Carolina its sixth win in the past seven games against the Wildcats (5-2). Freshman Doron Lamb had a season-high 24 points for Kentucky, though he missed a desperation running heave for the win a few steps within halfcourt as time expired.

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Kentucky Basketball: Kentucky (10) @ North Carolina — Pregame

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Doron Lamb's steady production could be the difference in today's game versus the North Carolina Tar Heels

Andy Lyons – Getty Images

Doron Lamb’s steady production could be the difference in today’s game versus the North Carolina Tar Heels

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You know, I can’t describe how excited I am about this game.  I’m a giddy schoolboy every single year (well, at least for the last two) when the Kentucky Wildcats suit up against the North Carolina Tar Heels and prepare to do battle on the hardwood.

I usually populate my pre-game commentary with statistics, and charts, and graphs.  Not today.  Not this one.  For one, everybody knows who plays for the Tar Heels.  No matter what we may think about them as fans, they, like us, are basketball royalty.  The ‘Cats versus the Heels — two of the most storied basketball programs in all of America getting together to test each other’s mettle and forge memories that will last a generation.

This is not just another basketball game.  This is a clash of Titans, of planets, of galaxies.  This is the good stuff that every college basketball fan worth his or her salt lives to see.  Every game of this series has been memorable for something, and this one is almost guaranteed to be no exception.

Kentucky and North Carolina have met previously 32 times, with the Wildcats prevailing in 11, and the Tar Heels winning 21.  It is also a little-known fact that UNC and UK once played in the same conference, the Southern Conference back in the 1920′s.  That conference was a huge, 33-team mega-conference that eventually broke up into the ACC and the SEC, as well as others.  All this knowledge, and more, can be found at Jon Scott’s outstanding Kentucky basketball history site, to which every UK fan should have a bookmark or committed to memory.

This year’s Tar Heels are sporting some of the finest young talent in the league, but they have struggled a bit so far, particularly on the road.  The Heels are 4-3 and so far have played a substantially easier schedule than 5-1 Kentucky.  With that said, all of their losses have been to very good basketball teams — the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and the Illinois Fighting Illini.  Two UNC losses were in Puerto Rico on a neutral floor, and the other was on the road in Champaign, Il.  For a full statistical preview of the game, check out

The Tar Heels’ main struggles have been with offensive efficiency.  The Heels are averaging only 1.04 points/possession (compare with UK’s 1.16).  Defensively, UNC has allowed virtually the same number of points as Kentucky, 0.94 PPP, so the struggle for the Heels has been all about offense.

The biggest reason for UNC’s offensive struggles have been high turnover % (22%) and poor free throw shooting (sounds like another team I know).  Their 3-point FG% is decent at over 36%, but UK’s is absolutely stellar at 41%.  Also, the Tar Heels force even fewer turnovers from opponents than Kentucky, if you can imagine that.

Overall, this game is a bit of a physical mismatch.  The Heels are bigger and taller than UK, and the last team we ran into with that particular characteristic handed us our butts on a silver platter.  On the other hand, this is a relatively low-octane version of North Carolina, with their pace clocking in at only 68.5 possessions/game, just slighly slower than Kentucky.  Over the last few years, UNC has been one of the highest-pace teams in America, so this team is a bit of a departure for Ol’ Roy, likely because of their relative lack of athleticism.

Of the two teams, there is really no doubt who needs it more. North Carolina has lost two games in a row, and they will be spoiling for a home victory, so the young Wildcats are in a very tough spot in this game.  The good news is, the Tar Heels are not significantly more experienced and absolutely no more talented than Kentucky, so despite their size advantage, this is overall a very good match up.  A quick look, position-wise:

Point guard:  Larry Drew II vs. Brandon Knight — Drew is talented player and a good scorer, similar to Knight in some respects.  The difference is that Knight is a much better ballhandler and is more talented overall.  Drew will have difficulty staying in front of Knight.

Kendall Marshall, Drew’s backup, is also a talented lead guard, although more of a pass-first player.  Despite coming off the bench, Marshall leads the team in assists per game.  Marshall is not as skilled as Knight, or Doron Lamb, for that matter.  Advantage — Wildcats

Off guard:  Dexter Strickland is an excellent penetrator and, much like Kentucky’s Doron Lamb, prefers to do his damage in the mid-range.  Strickland is quick off the bounce and can pass the ball well from the two spot.  The biggest problem with Strickland’s game so far has been turnovers, as he is averaging more turnovers (2.5) than assists (2.0).  Leslie McDonald is the backup to Strickland, and McDonald is an extremely dangerous 3-point shooter.

Matching up with him will be DeAndre Liggins, although it is likely that Liggins will be guarding Tar Heel freshman sensation Harrison Barnes.  Liggins is a dangerous penetrator on offense and a shut-down defender, and his 3-point shooting has significantly improved from last year.  Advantage — Wildcats.

Small forward:  Harrison Barnes is the small forward for the Tar heels, and he’s widely considered to be the #1 incoming freshman from the 2010 class.  Barnes can shoot the ball inside, penetrate off the dribble, pass, rebound and defend.  He has had a couple of poor shooting games this year, but don’t think for a minute that Barnes is anything other than a dangerous scorer inside and out.

Darius Miller is not as talented as Barnes, but he is more experienced and a good size matchup for the freshman.  However, Miller is likely (although not certainly) going to be guarding Dexter Strickland rather than Barnes.  Strickland will have the quickness advantage, and Miller will need to be on top of his game, defensively, to keep Strickland out of the paint.  Advantage — North Carolina

Power forward:  John Henson, the rail-thin power forward for the Tar Heels, will be an intriguing matchup for the Wildcats.  Henson is an inside player who uses his length and athleticism to get the job done inside, but he is not really bulky enough for the position.  Henson is very athletic and a great shot blocker, but he will be going up against Kentucky’s Terrence Jones, and that is a major problem for the Heels.

Jones can draw North Carolina’s leading rebounder away from the basket, forcing him to defend Jones off the dribble.  That is just not going to go well for the Heels, so they are probably going to have to use several defenders on Jones.  Either way, Jones presents a major challenge for UNC as they don’t have a player other than Barnes who is quick enough to guard Jones outside, and big enough to handle him inside.  Advantage — Wildcats

Center:  Tyler Zeller is the Tar Heel’s center, and he is a very good one.  Zeller is currently the leading scorer for North Carolina, and is a very capable low-post player who can also shoot the ball from the perimeter.  Zeller is long, tall, and experienced, and he presents the biggest challenge of the year on the interior for the Wildcats.

Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson and backup Eloy Vargas will have all they can handle on defense, and keeping Zeller off the offensive glass will be quite difficult given his skill level.  Advantage — North Carolina.

Bench-wise, UNC is deeper, Kentucky slightly more talented.  In a game like this, particularly at home, I think you have to give UNC the nod.  Justin Knox, Leslie McDonald, Justin Watts and Kendall Marshall represent a formidable backup group for the Tar Heels, all extremely talented players who would likely be starting elsewhere.  Advantage:  Tar Heels

This game should be very entertaining, and I look forward to it anxiously every year.  I love playing North Carolina not only because of their rich basketball history, but since John Calipari came to Kentucky these two teams seem to match up very well every year.  It is a game every college basketball fan should mark on their calendar, and I can’t wait to toss it up.

For the North Carolina perspective on the game, check out the excellent SBNation UNC blog, Carolina March.

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Two of the Winningest Programs Battle

Two of the winningest teams in college basketball face off Saturday when the Wildcats (2,028 wins – 1st) take on the Tar Heels (2,007 wins – 3rd) in Chapel Hill in a nationally televised contest on CBS.

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‘Dores and ‘Heels on Sunday

The Commodores and Tar Heels will play in the consolation finals of the 2010 Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off Sunday at 4:30 p.m. CT. The game can be seen live on ESPN2 and heard on the Vanderbilt Sports Network from IMG College and

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Tar Heels in Puerto Rico Spotlight, But Beware of Rin-Tin-Tins

Content provided by Vanderbilt Sports Line.

Andy Katz writes about the expectations and question marks surrounding Roy Williams’ high-profile team. Coming off a wildly disappointing 2009-10 season but loaded with talent, UNC is sure to be the focus of much attention in San Juan.

If that’s the case, consider it an opportunity to do exactly what J.B., M.D. noted Vandy does best: fly under the radar and quietly build success. Of course, it isn’t lost on AK that the Dores may have a new weapon capable of stealing the show:

“Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley: Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said at SEC media day that Tinsley was ready to assume the reins of the point from Jermaine Beal. He couldn’t have been more prophetic as Tinsley started the season with a triple-double against Presbyterian with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Guards Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins get more of the headlines, but Tinsley could emerge as a star after this weekend. You could make the argument that the Commodores might have more offensive fluidity without A.J. Ogilvy. This tournament will be a good indicator to see whether that’s true.”

I agree with Katz 100% that it is highly likely — nay, I will say a lead-pipe cinch — that Vandy’s offense will be more fluid this season without AJ in the mix. That was one of the biggest takeaways for me in watching the Presbyterian highlights. These ain’t your Mommy’s Commies, folks. Look again.

Curious about the Nebraska matchup? Stanimal’s got you covered. How ’bout some excitement, Nation?

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