Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the most storied programs in college basketball will collide on Saturday evening, as the 11th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats come calling on the 18th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at the Smith Center.
Kentucky has the most wins in NCAA history (2,119), while North Carolina ranks third all-time (2,096). These teams also represent the top two programs in terms of NCAA Tournament appearances, games played and victories. North Carolina holds a 22-13 edge in the all-time series with Kentucky, but the Wildcats have won three of the last four meetings, including a thrilling 73-72 decision at Rupp Arena in 2011.
John Calipari has another extremely young squad on his hands in Lexington. That hasn't stopped the Wildcats from posting wins in eight of their first 10 games. The two losses have come to powerhouses Michigan State (78-74) in mid- November and Baylor (67-62) on Dec. 6. The Wildcats were able to get some distance from the loss to the Bears with Tuesday's 70-55 win over Boise State.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels have been tough to figure out this season. The team has been at less than full strength with projected starters P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald still unable to suit up. UNC has dropped games to Belmont and UAB this season, but has a pair of stellar victories over defending champion Louisville (93-84) and then top-ranked Michigan State (79-65). The team followed the big road win at Michigan State with last weekend's rout of UNC Greensboro (81-50) to arrive at 6-2 on the season.
Duke's Jabari Parker and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins have received the lion's share of the press as heralded freshmen phenoms, but Kentucky's Julius Randle has certainly thrust his name into the conversation of best newcomer this season. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound youngster has dominated play down low, recording eight double-doubles in 10 games and currently leads the Wildcats in both scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (12.0 rpg). Fellow freshmen James Young (13.9 ppg), Aaron Harrison (13.8 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (10.3 ppg) provide plenty of support, as does sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein (9.1 ppg), who serves as the team's top distributor (3.5 apg). Despite the team's extreme youth, Kentucky is averaging a strong 80.8 ppg this year, while owning a huge +12.4 rebounding advantage.
Kentucky shot an impressive 52.9 percent from the floor against Boise State, owned the glass with a 43-27 edge in rebounding and held the Broncos to a mere 31.9-percent shooting effort in this week's 15-point victory at Rupp Arena. Young led the way with 21 points. Randle finished with a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double, while the Harrison twins posted 13 points apiece.
It was a balanced effort in North Carolina's romp over UNCG last weekend, as the Tar Heels had five players post double figures in the scoring column, dominated the Spartans on the boards (46-28 rebounding edge) and forced the visitors into 21 costly turnovers that resulted in 30 points for UNC. Brice Johnson led the way off the bench with 14 points. James Michael McAdoo was right behind with 13 points, followed by Marcus Paige (12 pts), Kennedy Meeks (12 pts) and Nate Britt (11 pts).
Despite being a couple of star players short, North Carolina remains a tough team, especially at the offensive end of the court, where it is averaging 77.5 ppg on .478 shooting. The team also enjoys a +7.4 rebounding edge and is forcing 15.5 turnovers per game. Paige has really taken over as a team leader at the point and paces the squad in both scoring (18.8 ppg) and assists (4.5 apg). Johnson (13.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) has been a picture of consistency coming off the bench. McAdoo (13.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg) may be the most talented player on the floor most nights, but his sub par shooting thus far (.404) has helped squelch his explosiveness.