We're about six months away from one of the most highly anticipated regular season matchups between the bounce-back blue bloods of college basketball set to tip off in Rupp Arena.
Not only is this a basketball traditionalist’s dream matchup, but the two winningest programs of all time are the consensus picks amongst hoops analysts to sit atop the preseason 2011-2012 top 25 polls, with North Carolina and Kentucky at number one and two, respectively.
Between the two rosters, there are a whopping 14 McDonald’s All-Americans and a total of 10 players projected to go in the first round of the 2012 draft, according to nbadraft.net.
List of Projected First Rounders:
(Draft position to the right in parenthesis)
Anthony Davis, Kentucky (1)
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina (2)
James McAdoo, North Carolina (3)
Marquis Teague, Kentucky (8)
Michael Gilchrist, Kentucky (12)
Terrence Jones, Kentucky (13)
Doron Lamb, Kentucky (16)
Kendall Marshall, North Carolina (18)
John Henson, North Carolina (23)
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina (24)
The series between North Carolina and Kentucky dates all the way back to their first meeting in 1924, although only until the 1960’s was there a sustained series, which lasted into the early 70’s. Another began in 1989, but was quickly aborted in 1990. Finally, in 2000, the series was renewed and has been growing strong ever since. North Carolina currently leads the all-time series, 22-12.
The two storied programs met twice last season—once early in the regular season on Dec 4. in Chapel Hill where the Heels escaped with an uplifting 75-73 win—and later on in the East Regional final of the NCAA tournament in Newark, New Jersey, where the Cats slipped away with the 76-69 victory to advance on to the Final Four in San Antonio. Neither game disappointed as both teams fought tooth and nail all the way down to the wire.
This time around, look for emotions to run at an all-time high on the faces of Carolina as they seek vengeance in Lexington. The East Regional Final loss to Kentucky helped fuel the decision for Barnes and Henson to come back to school, as it did with Jones and Lamb when they were defeated by Connecticut in the Elite Eight. When competitive players place such a high value on winning championships and come so close to tasting one, it’s hard not to chase down that dream one last time when the opportunity arises.
One of the most difficult tasks in all of college basketball is escaping Rupp Arena with a victory, as the Cats carry the nation’s second longest home winning streak at 34. The energy and noise level in Rupp will likely be at an all-time high when these two titans clash. But if there’s any team that can break that streak, it’s Roy Williams’ Tar Heels. The Heels return their entire starting lineup from last year with the addition of heralded freshmen P.J. Hairston and James McAdoo.
I just can’t envision there being another collegiate game, at least in my lifetime, that will ever be able to match the incredible amount of talent set to be featured on the Rupp Arena floor when these two college basketball royalties meet in early December (no specific date has been set yet). And the fact that this is a rematch of the 2011 East Regional Final is what makes this game even more special. This is truly a once in a lifetime matchup, and it’s never too early to start counting down the days.
With parity in college hoops rising to an all-time high over the last few seasons, it’s great for college basketball to have the rich-in-tradition bluebloods help restore sanity.