How Kentucky and North Carolina match up

Herald-Leader sports columnistDecember 3, 2011 

Point guard

Marquis Teague got off to a bit of a rough start. With big shoes to fill in Brandon Knight and John Wall, the Kentucky freshman committed 18 turnovers, compared to 11 assists, over his first four games. But Teague seems to be settling into his role. He dished out eight assists without a turnover in the win over Portland, then had five assists and two turnovers against St. John's. North Carolina took off last year once it inserted Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup, the Heels advancing all the way to the Elite Eight. This year, the 6-foot-4 sophomore is averaging just 4.7 points per game, but has an assist/turnover ratio of nearly 4-to-1 (72-to-19). Jay Bilas calls Marshall "the best passer in college basketball."

Advantage: North Carolina

Shooting guard

Kentucky sophomore Doron Lamb is the Cats' second-leading scorer, averaging 14.4 points per game. Over the summer, John Calipari went so far as calling the 6-4 sophomore from New York the team's best player. Lamb scored 26 in the win over Penn State, but just 27 points in the next three games. He had 16 against St. John's. The Heels' Dexter Strickland isn't really a shooter. Through the first seven games, the 6-3 junior had not attempted a three-point shot. However, he is an excellent glue guy who plays excellent defense.

Advantage: Kentucky

Small forward

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is Mr. Do Everything. The 6-7 freshman is averaging 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds, but his main job is causing havoc on defense and doing the dirty work on offense. Kidd-Gilchrist is coming off a subpar effort against St. John's, missing six of seven shots. Harrison Barnes is more of a glamour guy, a pre-season All-American. The 6-8 sophomore is averaging 17.7 points, though he rolled an ankle and made just six of 16 shots in UNC's loss to UNLV. Barnes bounced back to score 20 points, hitting some huge shots in UNC's win over Wisconsin.

Advantage: North Carolina

Power forward

Terrence Jones is coming off his best game of the season, scoring 26 points on Thursday night. He is stronger and more focused than last year. The 6-9 sophomore is averaging 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds. Long, lean stringbean John Henson is averaging a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.9 rebounds. He's also averaging more than three blocked shots. If it's a late-game situation, you might want to put Henson on the foul line, where he shoots 46.4 percent.

Advantage: Kentucky

Center

Considered the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, Anthony Davis just missed a triple-double on Thursday, scoring 15 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking eight shots. The 6-11 freshman is mainly a lob-and-dunk guy on offense, and he needs to get better at the foul line (52.8 percent), but his upside is enormous. UNC's Tyler Zeller has a height and experience advantage. The 7-foot senior is off to a slow start, however, making 48.5 percent of his shots and averaging 13.3 points. Foul trouble limited him to 24 minutes in the loss to UNLV.

Advantage: North Carolina

Bench

Not many teams have someone coming off the bench who was the Most Valuable Player in his conference tournament. Darius Miller is averaging 24 minutes and 8.6 points. The 6-7 senior also has two summers of U.S. team experience. But the Cats aren't especially deep after that. The 6-9 freshman Kyle Wiltjer is a good shooter who is learning to rebound and play defense. The 6-11 senior Eloy Vargas can rebound, but needs to be tougher. The Heels could be missing a key reserve in freshman P.J. Hairston, who is averaging 12.1 minutes. Fellow freshman James Michael McAdoo (6-9) is averaging 14 minutes off the bench. But Reggie Bullock, a 6-7 sophomore, is probably UNC's most valuable reserve at this point, averaging 15.7 minutes, 7.4 points. Coach Roy Williams usually goes only about eight deep as Justin Watts appears to have been welded to the bench. And valuable reserve Leslie McDonald is out for the year with a knee injury.

Advantage: Kentucky

Intangibles

Kentucky may be the more talented team with Davis, Jones and possibly Kidd-Gilchrist considered lottery picks. (Teague and Lamb aren't too far behind.) North Carolina has the experience edge with Zeller, Henson and Barnes being veterans of big games. UK will have the home crowd in Rupp Arena, which figures to be in ear-splitting form for such a marquee matchup, and the Cats are coming in with momentum after a confidence-building romp over St. John's. North Carolina has already lost a game, but that could work in the Heels' favor here.

Advantage: Kentucky

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