Brandon Knight seems well on the way to being the next in a line of star point guards for UK Coach John Calipari. He's coming off one of his better games, having scored 23 points while posting career highs with six rebounds and six assists. The latter showed how he responded to Calipari's call to think pass first. If Knight gets in foul trouble, Kentucky would have no proven backup. Meanwhile, North Carolina has no proven starter. Junior Larry Drew II remains substandard and freshman Kendall Marshall hasn't yet won the job. In the last four games, the Tar Heels have averaged 18.5 turnovers. Advantage: Kentucky.
Darius Miller and freshman Doron Lamb give Kentucky two players who have made more than half their three-point shots this young season. Lamb has made a team-high 55 percent of his shots from beyond the arc (11-for-20), while Miller has line-drived in 11 of 21. For North Carolina, Wayne Ellington's silky smooth jumper is merely a pleasant memory. Starter Dexter Strickland has made only two three-pointers so far. While Knight more than helps out with a team-high 13 three-pointers, Drew has been an abysmal shooter: 22.2 percent overall and only one three-pointer in the last five games. Advantage: Kentucky.
Kentucky starter Josh Harrellson has embraced the role of blue-collar worker. Boston U. Coach Patrick Chambers sang his praises as the "mother hen" tending to UK's chicks. Harrellson prefers the term garbage man. He's coming off his second career double-double after scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds against Boston U. North Carolina's leading scorer is Tyler Zeller (14.7 ppg). His foul trouble doomed the Tar Heels at Illinois earlier this week. He leads North Carolina in baskets, free throws made and attempts. Advantage: North Carolina.
Freshman Terrence Jones is the talk of Kentucky, if not the nation. Six games into his college career and he's already been SEC Freshman of the Week twice. He became the first UK freshman since 1998 to debut with a double-double. Against Oklahoma he scored 29 points (equalling the second most ever by a UK freshman). Against Washington, he pulled down 17 rebounds. He makes threes, hands out assists and leads the team in blocked shots. Sophomore John Henson leads North Carolina in rebounding (10.0 rpg) and blocks (20). But he's rail-thin at 210 pounds on a 6-10 frame. Advantage: Kentucky.
UK's DeAndre Liggins and UNC's Harrison Barnes make for an apples-and-oranges contrast. Liggins is all effort and will. Kentucky calls on him to defend and dive on loose balls. He's mixed in a much-improved shot (41.7-percent accuracy on three-pointers) and heady passing (his 19 assists are just five short of his total for all of last season). Barnes made history by being voted to The Associated Press pre-season All-America team. Outsized expectations seemingly have weighed heavily on Barnes, who has been guilty of being less than spectacular (11.3 ppg on 33.8-percent shooting). Advantage: Toss-up.
Freshman Doron Lamb (11.5 ppg) gives Kentucky instant offense off the bench. Eloy Vargas, although up and down in his play, gives UK a backup to Harrellson. That's about it. Earlier this month, Assistant Coach John Robic said the Cats would like to get an "extra boost" from either sophomore Jon Hood (1.7 ppg) or freshman Stacey Poole (0.0 ppg). North Carolina has as many players averaging double-digit minutes (10) as Kentucky has players (10). Its five substitutes averaging double-digit minutes have a combined scoring average of 29.6 points. Kendall Marshall is expected to become the starting point guard some day. Justin Knox, a transfer from Alabama, shores up the front line. Advantage: North Carolina.
Kentucky and North Carolina define intangible. UK will be playing its first game on an opponent's court. How will the Kiddie Cats react to a partisan crowd cheering for the other team? North Carolina is 3-0 at home. But what do less-than-convincing victories against Lipscomb, UNC Asheville and College of Charleston mean? UK is riding high, only losing once: to a UConn team with arguably the nation's savviest player in Kemba Walker and a well-muscled front line. UNC has neither, but it enjoys the all-important home-court advantage. Advantage: North Carolina, no, Kentucky, no UNC, no UK.