The CoachCal.com keys to victory: North Carolina

The No. 10/11 Kentucky Wildcats once again do battle with another of college basketball’s elite programs as the Cats clash with the No. 18/21 North Carolina Tar Heels in what should be an exciting battle of blue bloods.

Introducing the North Carolina Tar Heels

The Coach — Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams is in his eleventh season as head coach of his alma mater, winning 280 games at North Carolina, second in school history to the legendary Dean Smith, a man he played for and coached under from 1978 to 1988. Before arriving in Chapel Hill, N.C., Williams won 418 games in 15 seasons at Kansas, second in school history to Phog Allen. Williams’ accolades are too numerous to mention in this space, so allow me to touch on the highlights: Williams has coached in seven Final Fours, three with Carolina and four with Kansas, becoming the only coach other than Rick Pitino to lead two schools to at least three Final Fours. He has won two national titles, in 2005 and 2009 with UNC, and from 1990 to 2009 he led his teams to 20 consecutive NCAA Tournaments (second all-time), winning at least one game in each tourney, setting the record for most consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with a win. Williams has won 708 games in his collegiate head coaching career, and is sixth all-time in winning percentage among NCAA Division I coaches (.795). Williams has been named Associated Press Coach of the Year twice (1992, 2006), Naismith College Coach of the Year once (1997), Big Eight and Big 12 Coach of the Year seven times (1990, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2002, 2003), and ACC Coach of the Year twice (2006, 2011). Williams was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. The Sporting News named Williams the Coach of the Decade for the 2000s.

The basics

What: No. 11/10 Kentucky (8-2) vs. North Carolina (6-1)
When: Friday, 5:15 p.m. ET
Where: Smith Center (21,750) in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Game notes: UK | North Carolina
Preview: Cats shouldn’t need motivation for blue-blooded battle
Video: Randle, Young preview UNC
Video: Cal’s pre-UNC presser
Video: UK-UNC pump-up video
Blog: Williams says UK is only going to get better

Williams has mastered the secondary break offense, which ideally allows for a seamless transition from the fast break into an offensive set. The secondary break, which he learned at UNC while playing for and working under Smith, attempts to exploit mismatches and puts shooters on the perimeter (generally, from the wings to the corners), with big men running the lane, both down the middle and on either side. It is an option-heavy offense with multiple looks, and when run properly allows for either open shots from the perimeter or big men with the ball in their hands in scoring positions.

The Players — With the absences of junior guard P.J. Hairston and guard Leslie McDonald (the only scholarship senior on the UNC roster), who are awaiting an eligibility ruling from the NCAA, the Tar Heels have relied heavily on 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Marcus Paige, 6-9 junior James McAdoo and 6-9 sophomore Brice Johnson. These three players take 55.9 percent of the Tar Heels’ shots from the floor. Paige, a dynamic, scoring point guard who was named a Kyle Macy Freshman All-America last season, is averaging 18.8 points and 4.5 assists per game and is Carolina’s lone 3-point threat, making 39.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc (20 of 51). Additionally, Paige is the only Tar Heel to attempt more than eight 3-pointers on the season. McAdoo is third on the team in scoring, averaging 13.0 points per game and 5.9 boards per contest. Johnson comes off the bench to average 13.5 points and leads the squad in both rebounds (6.9 per game) and blocked shots (1.4 per game). Kennedy Meeks, a 6-9 freshman forward, is netting 8.5 points per contest and shooting an outstanding 61.9 percent from the floor, while 6-5 swing player J.P. Tokoto accounts for 9.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest.

TV/Radio coverage

TV: ESPN
Radio: UK IMG
Online audio: All-access
Live stats: Gametracker
Live stream: WatchESPN
Live blog: CoachCal.com

The Schedule — Sporting a 6-2 record on the year, the young Tar Heels have been the epitome of a roller-coaster ride, owning victories over then-No. 1 Michigan State (79-65) and then-No. 3 Louisville (93-84), with losses to Belmont (83-80) — after the Bruins nailed 15 treys and UNC connected on only 22 of 48 free throws — and UAB on the road, 63-59.

Three Keys

Defend the paint with passion — Nearly 45 percent of UNC’s scoring comes from inside the paint. Furthermore, in its victories over Michigan State and Louisville, Carolina owned the lane, outscoring Sparty and the Cards by a combined 96-54 in the paint. With four players who will see action listed at 6-9 or taller, UNC will look to feed the post and either score or get to the foul line. It is imperative for the Cats to deny the entry pass or give help quickly to alleviate the Tar Heels’ ability to score easy buckets.

Control Marcus Paige — It isn’t often in big-time college basketball that one player is able to single-handedly control his team’s destiny, but a confluence of events have conspired to allow Paige to do just that. Between his scoring and assist totals, Paige accounts, either directly or indirectly, for nearly 39 percent of Carolina’s points. Paige scored 32 points in the Heels’ win over a tough, defensive-minded Louisville team, as he connected on 9 of 12 field goals, 3 of 5 from long range, and 11 of 11 from the free-throw line. With the officiating emphasis on hand-checking this year, Kentucky must leverage closely guarding Paige on the perimeter with quick help on the drive.

UNC File

Record: 6-2
Head coach: Roy Williams (288-81 at UNC)
Ranking: 18 (AP)/21 (Coaches)
Nickname: Tar Heels
Player to watch: Marcus Paige (averaging  18.8 points, 4.5 assists)
Series history: UNC leads 22-13
Last meeting: UK won 73-72 on Dec. 3, 2012

Make free throws — In UK’s two losses this year, the Cats made a paltry 54.2 percent from the charity stripe (32 of 59). In its eight victories, UK connected on 69.7 percent from the line (193 of 277). That equates to 16 made free throws in UK’s setbacks and 24 makes from the stripe in wins. Possibly giving the Cats an advantage this afternoon is the fact that, other than Paige, Carolina is a poor free-throw shooting team, having made only 61.8 percent of its tries from the stripe (139 of 225). Take away Paige’s 87.2 percent free-throw accuracy and the rest of the team makes only 56.5 percent from the line (105 of 186). If Kentucky is able to win the free-throw battle this afternoon, on the road in a hostile environment, it could go a long way in leading the Cats to victory.

Key Matchup

Kentucky’s transition defense vs. North Carolina’s secondary break — If the Cats are able to get back, match up and play effective transition defense, the mismatches that Carolina normally and quickly looks for off the secondary break will be difficult to find because of the combination of size and athleticism of UK. In order to achieve this, Paige must be quickly guarded and not allowed to drive the basketball inside the 3-point line. Instead, Kentucky must force UNC’s playmaker to spots on the floor where it is difficult to create offense.

Trends

  • James Young has connected on 11 of 22 3-point shots over the last three games (50.0 percent). Young also posted a season-high nine rebounds last time out against Boise State.
  • After accounting for only eight assists through the first six games of the season (1.3 per game), Aaron Harrison has dished 13 dimes over the last four contests (3.3 per game).
  • Andrew Harrison has made only 1 of 10 from beyond the arc in the last five games (10.0 percent) after nailing 7 of 11 treys in the first five games of the season (63.6 percent).
  • Willie Cauley-Stein averaged 2.5 blocks per contest through the first six games. In the last four games the big fella has swatted an average of 7.0 shots per game.
  • Julius Randle corralled 38 offensive rebounds through UK’s first seven games (5.4 per game) but has totaled only six offensive boards over the last three contests (2.0 per game).
  • In his last 42 minutes of action, covering three games, Dominique Hawkins has scored seven points on 3 of 6 field-goal shooting, with three assists (versus only one turnover), two rebounds and one steal.

Team stats

UK North Carolina
Scoring offense 80.8 77.5
Scoring defense 63.4 66.5
FG percentage 48.2 47.8
FG percentage defense 36.3 37.6
3-point percentage 32.5 29.9
3-point percentage defense 31.1 31.6
FT percentage 67.0 61.8
Rebound margin +14.4 +7.4
Steals per game 4.0 7.6
Blocks per game 7.8 4.5
Assists per game 12.9 15.9
Turnover margin -2.2 +2.6
kenpom.com adjusted offensive efficiency rank 4 16
Kenpom.com adjusted defensive efficiency rank 41 8

Individual leaders

UK North Carolina
Points per game Julius Randle (17.8) Marcus Paige (18.8)
Rebounds per game Julius Randle (12.0) Brice Johnson (6.9)
Field-goal percentage Willie Cauley-Stein (61.7) Brice Johnson (62.2)
3-point percentage Andrew Harrison (38.1) Marcus Paige (39.2)
Free-throw percentage Andrew Harrison (78.9) Marcus Paige (87.2)
Assists per game Andrew Harrison (3.7) Marcus Paige (4.5)
Blocks per game Willie Cauley-Stein (4.3) Brice Johnson (1.4)
Steals per game Willie Cauley-Stein (1.1) Marcus Paige, James Michael McAdoo (1.5)

The Wrap-up

Tip-off for the Dean Dome tilt is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. ET with television coverage provided by ESPN. As always, rely on CoachCal.com for complete pre-, in- and postgame coverage as the Cats take on the Tar Heels.