Will the real Kentucky Wildcats please stand up?
John Calipari’s young club entered the season with all the hype of a team expected to compete for a national championship, but through the first month of the season, Kentucky has looked like anything but a team worthy of title buzz.
The Cats opened their season by getting destroyed by the Duke Blue Devils, 118-84, and have lost their only other game against a top-90 KenPom team when they fell 84-83 to Seton Hall. Kentucky will get another shot at a big non-conference foe Saturday when they face No. 9 North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic.
The Tar Heels are fresh off an impressive victory over No. 5 Gonzaga and have all the makings of a team that will threaten Duke and Virginia atop the Atlantic Coast Conference.
When: Saturday, Dec. 22, at 5:15 p.m. ET
Where: United Center
Live Stream: CBS Sports
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Coby White, freshman guard, North Carolina
The electric freshman might be one of the most electric players in college basketball, in the non-Zion Williamson Division, of course. The 6-foot-5 point guard is quickly soaring up draft boards as he continues to showcase his impressive game. White’s speed makes the Tarheels go. When the freshman is on the court, good things tend to happen for North Carolina, especially in transition. White has the ability to put all kinds of pressure on defenses, as he can use his speed and quick handles to get to the rim, or stop on a dime and hit the midrange jumper. He also is a wizard at creating separation and often will take the risk in splitting a ball screen in order to create a 4-on-3 opportunity for North Carolina.
Keldon Johnson, freshman guard, Kentucky
Calipari once again brought in a heralded freshman class and Johnson has asserted himself as the leader of the group to this point. The 6-foot-6 guard is 16.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and is coming off a 24-point performance in Kentucky’s blowout win over Utah. Johnson is the Cats’ go-to guy and they’ll need a big game from him if they plan to upset North Carolina.
If there’s one thing we learned about Kentucky while Duke was wiping the floor with them, it’s that the Wildcats lack the positional versatility to guard teams that are adopting Villanova’s position-less style of play. Reid Travis and PJ Washington are solid players but both have been exposed against smaller, more versatile lineups. Kentucky’s traditional two-big lineups have been picked apart early on this season, and a win against North Carolina will show that Calipari and the Cats are beginning to turn the corner.
As for North Carolina, we know who the Tar Heels are and what they are capable of. Roy Williams has yet another team that has the talent to go back to the Final Four. Cameron Johnson has been shooting the lights out from 3-point range early on and Luke Maye continues to be a steadying force for the Heels. And let’s not forget about Nassir Little, who likely will be a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Carolina is loaded.
North Carolina 88, Kentucky 84
The game certainly will be competitive, but until Kentucky shows it can beat a quality team, we just can’t’ ride with the Cats. White does it all for the Heels and Johnson hits some big shots late to deliver a win for Carolina.
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Thumbnail photo via Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports Images