It would be my belief that when North Carolina and Kentucky's athletic directors got off the phone they were rather excited for the fresh new rivalry of two basketball powerhouses.
The two teams have combined 74 regular season conference championships, 50 conference tournament titles, 89 NCAA tournament appearances, 30 final fours, and 12 national championships.
However, the rivalry between the two hasn’t been so amazing. Since 2000 North Carolina holds a slight advantage at 4-3 head to head against the Wildcats. Don’t bank on a close game, though! Kentucky’s three wins were by an average of 18 points. North Carolina’s four wins boast an average nine and a half point difference.
As for the direction of the programs, there is a distinct difference. Since the change of coaches in Kentucky they have gone a measly 18-14 including losses to Gardner Webb and Virginia Military Institute. The year before Gillispie showed up wasn’t anything great either as the Wildcats finished with a sub respectable 22-11 record.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, are climbing the ranks of college basketball and are a lot of people’s number one. Carolina has won 86 games during All American Tyler Hansbrough’s stay in Chapel Hill. A year before that they won their fifth National title.
The dramatic change in each program has definitely taken two different roads. So what gives tomorrow when they play?
Kentucky needs Hansbrough, Ginyard and Frasor to sit if they want a chance. The Tar Heels took care of Penn in their season opener rather easily while Kentucky lost to VMI by eight. Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller really stepped up their performances in their collegiate debut’s while Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller also had strong outings.
In order for Kentucky to keep it close they are going to need to slow down the Carolina offensive attack. While the Tar Heels wont score as many points as the run and gun Keydets they will have an easy time getting the ball inside against the Kentucky posts. Patterson and Stevenson are great post players for the Wildcats, but not enough to slow down the Carolina front court.
What I Expect
I don’t expect the Wildcats to come play like they did on Saturday. Gillispie will certainly not allow his Wildcats to underachieve for a second straight year. I look for them to come out strong and play with great intensity and Kentucky pride.
If Hansbrough and Frasor play, I could see a close first half. But, ultimately, the depth and size of the Heels prevails as they come out with an easy 88-72 victory. If Hansbrough and Frasor do not play, things could be interesting. If Kentucky can keep it within five for the first 28 minutes of the game they might have a chance. I’m still taking Carolina, 82-74.