North Carolina Tar Heels Very Impressive; Ready for Test from Kentucky Wildcats

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North Carolina cheerleaders

You wouldn’t have thought that the UNC Tar Heels team playing Friday night was the same one that was defensively challenged all year. College basketball teams were able to get up and down on them pretty much at will. But on Friday night, they stepped up and answered the call, holding Marquette to 15 first half points – the second fewest in the program’s storied tournament history.

Not only did their defense click, but as usual, their offense was elite and put the game away early. The big 3 in Tyler Zeller, lottery pick Harrison Barnes, and John Henson put on a clinic against Marquette. They combined to score 61 of the 81 points and kept Marquette from ever making this a game.

By Ryan West

North Carolina’s physical athleticism and talent showed against a Marquette team that, let’s be honest, didn’t match up in either department very well. The game got out of hand early for Marquette.  After being up 10-8, North Carolina ratcheted up the defense and finished the half on a 32-5 run and ended up winning 81-63. With that run, it showed that this Tar Heels team can be scary when they play defense.

They will have a much harder test on Sunday in Newark against the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky, fresh off their upset win against #1 Ohio State, matches up very well against North Carolina. Both are extremely athletic, both are extremely inexperienced, and both have great tournament coaches.   The Tar Heels have been written off on many people’s brackets because of their lack of defense and their inexperience.  But, on cue, Roy Williams has them winning more games in the tournament than many expected.

When these two storied programs, which have over a combined 4,000 all time wins, face off on Sunday, something is going to have to give. North Carolina, as mentioned, loves to run up and down the court and keep the pace high. Kentucky is more known for their defense and has only given up an average of 60 points per game in this tournament.  Each will try to play at different styles to attain the same goal: getting a Final Four appearance in Houston and a chance at a National Championship.

Here is my breakdown:

What the Tar Heels have to do: Run, run, and run some more. This team is built to run and put up points in bunches. If they can do that against this Kentucky team, they’ll be playing in Houston next week. They also need to get some consistent play out of Harrison Barnes. When Barnes is on, he’s practically unstoppable. They will need his best effort against this Wildcats team as they will try and take him out of this game.

What the Wildcats have to do: Slow the pace and force North Carolina into a half court offense. When Kentucky plays defense, and they’re much underrated for a John Calipari team, they are elite. That’s how they upset #1 Ohio State, and that’s how they will have to beat North Carolina. When the Wildcats hold an opponent under 67 points, they are undefeated. So it’s huge to keep the Tar Heels under that margin.  They must also keep North Carolina off the boards. The Tar Heels are a great rebounding team and allowing second chances will be killer for Kentucky.

Player to Watch: Brandon Knight. The man who won the game for Kentucky will be the deciding factor. If he can control the game, Kentucky wins.

Prediction: Kentucky 65, North Carolina 58

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