Kentucky and North Carolina are the second half of the CBS Sports Classic at the United Center. This game is one between two of the best basketball programs in the country, and it promises to be a good one. North Carolina and Kentucky both come into this game as 8-2 with relatively similar losses, and both have a pretty embarrassing loss to a top 5 team.
Both Teams Trying to Recover
North Carolina got hit pretty hard by Michigan in Ann Arbor a few weeks ago, while Kentucky opened its season on national television by getting completely embarrassed by Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and the rest of the Duke Blue Devils. Kentucky’s second loss is relatively worse than UNC’s, losing to an 8-3 Seton Hall team in overtime. North Carolina’s second loss came at the hands of the Texas Longhorns. Texas is not great, but they are still a high-end division one program that has relative talent.
When assessing wins, UNC stands out head and shoulders over Kentucky. UK’s schedule is surprisingly weak so far, and they lost their only big test and an additional game that they should have won. The Wildcats’ first game against Duke and their last game against Utah are their only 2 power-5 opponents thus far. UNC has wins over Stanford, UCLA, and Gonzaga, which are pretty easily the 3 best wins on either team’s schedule.
North Carolina consists of a nice mix of veteran players and some young talent. Luke Maye came into this year as an early player of the year candidate, which tells you everything you need to know about his pedigree. However, Maye is surprisingly their 3rd leading scorer to start the season, something that most people around the program would not have expected. Maye is a double-double machine, but he has been really quiet in both of the Tar Heels’ losses. I think that Maye’s lack of athleticism has hurt him as he becomes the clear #1 option in the defense’s eyes. Michigan has exploited that all year defensively and Maye was held to just 11 points on 4-12 from the field in that game.
The nicest surprise for the Tar Heels this season is freshman Coby White. White has come in and won the starting PG job, scoring just over 15 points per game on 42% from beyond the arc. The other freshman playing key minutes is Nassir Little. Little is a top 5 prospect in the 2019 NBA Draft, so I think it is still strange that UNC has not really given him the playing time that his reputation would suggest.
Kentucky has 4 scorers in double-figures, including a pair of freshman guards in Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro. Johnson has shot almost 44% from the 3-pt line and almost 54% from the field, while Herro has struggled to shoot well, but has still produced decent statistics. I expect both of these guys to regress towards each other’s shooting statistics as the season moves along.
Reid Travis is a grad transfer that I was pretty high on coming into the season. Travis had already played big-time ball in the Pac 12 for years and was coming to a young team as a much-improved shooter. Travis has been more inconsistent than I would like, but he has still had the big games. I think that this team is at their best when Travis is their most consistent player.
Tar Heels vs. Jayhawks Prediction
This game should be a close game based on talent alone, but I think UNC is just a better team right now. For years, we have seen Kentucky struggle early in the season with constant adjustments. Kentucky has not proven at all that they can beat a top tier team, even though their talent suggests they should be able to. UNC has had a couple of losses, but they have also had big-time wins against big-time talent, so I will roll with the proven commodity in UNC (-2).