Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 12, 2014 at 4:00 PM
The Kentucky Wildcats received very bad news late this week when it was learned that junior Alex Poythress had suffered a torn ACL and would be out for the season. His experience was a stabilizing force on a young team (Kentucky always has a young team!). But, there’s no time to dwell on the news because North Carolina is in Lexington Saturday to play one of the mostly highly anticipated college basketball games of the young season.
To the degree there’s a silver lining, Kentucky is so deep that they can absorb the impact of the injury with relative ease. Poythress was a presence, but he was only averaging 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, while on the floor for 20.3 minutes. The two-tiered approach that head coach John Calipari uses allows everyone to contribute in a way that can absorb the loss of a single player.
Let’s see what the indicator stats say about the matchup. We can make any adjustments if needed for the absence of Poythress along the way. As always, the numbers come from the website of college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy.
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
N. Carolina: 107.5 per 100 possessions (#34 in the nation)
Kentucky: 112.8 per 100 possessions (#4 in the nation)
Poythress wasn’t a big scorer…so Kentucky won’t take much of a hit here. The team has had some low scoreboard totals this season because many opponents try to slow them down. Once you adjust for pace (and strength of schedule), the Wildcats still have one of the top five offenses in the nation. That’s better than Carolina…and is a key reason why Kentucky is still the betting choice to win the national championship. The Wildcats are a multi-dimensional team.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
N. Carolina: 89.2 per 100 possessions (#11 in the nation)
Kentucky: 83.3 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)
You longtime readers of the NOTEBOOK know that we’ve been singing the praises of Calipari’s defenses for years. The media paints him as a recruiter who just puts great athletes on the floor and gets out of the way. He is a great recruiter. But, he emphasizes recruiting defense more than other coaches…and then he teaches a lot more defense once players are on campus! North Carolina grades out well here too. But, nobody had a better defense than Kentucky before the injury news. Maybe that will cost them a few spots in the rankings over time.
N. Carolina: #10
This could create a very interesting game. North Carolina runs and guns like crazy. Kentucky loves to full court press but is fairly methodical when they have the ball. If Carolina can beat the press, they can get some great looks that other opponents don’t get vs. Kentucky. If Carolina turns the ball over, the Tar Heels could get run out of the gym in short order.
North Carolina has been a bit of a disappointment thus far, losing to Butler 74-66 in an early tournament, and then getting stunned at home by Iowa 60-55 in the Big Ten/ACC challenge. The team is still 6-2. Many expected 8-0 at this point, or 7-1 at worst. Can a team that lost at home to Iowa (who lost to Texas on a neutral floor) win on the road at Kentucky (who coasted past Texas in Lexington)?
Against the Spread
N. Carolina: 5-3 ATS
Kentucky: 5-5 ATS (1-9 to the Under)
This provides some hope. North Carolina is 5-1 ATS in the games they didn’t lose outright. They’re capable of posting strong results when things are clicking. It looks like pace will play a big factor here. Kentucky is used to playing slowly because opponents are so afraid of them. That’s why they’ve played 90% Unders so far. Iowa beat North Carolina in a low-scoring game. So…Carolina will want to push pace while hoping to avoid turnovers. Kentucky can either win with turnovers, or by working for playing in a slower comfort zone that will disrupt the visitors.
JIM HURLEY won’t make a decision here until the market price has settled by early morning. North Carolina/Kentucky could easily show up on the final card based on what we're seeing in the computer simulations. But, Saturday brings a HUGE basketball schedule. NETWORK clients only get the best!
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Back to the NFL tomorrow and Monday. Then, it’s onto the college bowls!
Sunday: NFL TV Preview…Dallas at Philadelphia on NBC
Monday: NFL TV Preview…New Orleans at Chicago on ESPN
Tuesday: Early Look…Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette in New Orleans Bowl
Wednesday: Early Look…Utah State vs. UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl
Thursday: NFL TV Preview…Tennessee at Jacksonville on the NFL Network
Friday: Early Look…Utah vs. Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl
You can expect a mix of NFL and bowl previews from now through the end of 2014. We’ll try to pick out the most appealing bowl matchups once the daily schedules get very busy. And, prime time NFL will always be a staple of our coverage. College basketball will become a lot more prominent just after the bowls when conference play begins. We know many of you are looking forward to that.
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