Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
"The main thing is making sure that we get better at taking care of the basketball. That is an area we've struggled in the last few games. We need to limit our turnovers. We need to execute because Carolina is a team that will really pressure you by denying passing lanes and trapping you." -- Tubby Smith
"When I played [at UNC] my sophomore year that place was probably the loudest place I've ever played in. I know they are going to be really hyped up after getting that huge win against Ohio State. We're just going to have to be focused and really intense and ready to match their level." -- Bobby Perry
"[Stopping Hansbrough] is going to have to be a team effort. I watched him. He plays extremely hard the entire time. It's going to have to be a team effort. We'll need to use our bench to try and slow him down a little." -- Randolph Morris
Season to Date: With the loss of its starting backcourt and several regular reserves, Kentucky knew it had a team that would take some time to develop -- and that's proved to be the case. After two lightweight non-conference games to open the season, a trip to Maui exposed some of the team's flaws and dropped the Wildcats out of the Top 25. They narrowly defeated DePaul, came up short in a late comeback attempt at UCLA and were then steamrolled by Memphis. A solid win on Tuesday over Charleston puts them at 4-2 heading into Saturday's matchup in Chapel Hill.
Stressing Defense: The biggest team flaw that was exposed in Maui was the inability to stop dribble penetration. The Wildcats allowed a total of 146 points in the paint on the trip, mostly a result of perimeter players beating UK off the dribble. Smith cited poor positioning, and responded by giving his players a written test on the topic. Perhaps that was the answer, as the Wildcats held Charleston to 31% shooting on Tuesday.
On Point: The perimeter problems go beyond just defense. Starting point guard Ramel Bradley has struggled to adapt to the role of full time floor general. His assist-to-turnover ratio stands at 0.90 entering Saturday's game, though he's proven to be a good scoring option, averaging 12.0 points and leading the team in three-point shooting (39%) and free-throw shooting (93%).
Frontcourt Depth?: With six players in the rotation who stand 6-8 or taller, you'd think Kentucky would be a dominant low-post team. Instead, they failed to outrebound any of their opponents in Maui, and gave up an average of 11.7 offensive rebounds per game. The blame doesn't fall on junior Randolph Morris, however, as he appears to be finally living up to his high school All-American billing (16.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg). It's been the likes of Sheray Thomas, Lukasz Obrzut and Bobby Perry who have lacked in production. Jared Carter, a 7-2 sophomore, saw his first action of the season on Tuesday after being sidelined by injury and should see increased minutes in the coming weeks.
Senior Slump: Furthering the discussion on Bobby Perry, the Durham, N.C. native is suffering through some early season struggles. Since being moved from power forward to small forward, he's gotten stuck in a position where he can't stay in front of opposing wings on defense and can't get by them on offense. With his team needing increased production from him, he's shooting 32% on the year, and only 22% the last three games.
Calling on Freshmen: They may not have been highly touted nationally, but UK's freshman class has shown promise early in the season: Perry Stevenson (6.0 ppg), who stands 6-9 and only 178 pounds, leads the team in blocked shots and has started five of the six games, Jodie Meeks (6.8 ppg) has the makings of a good scoring guard and Derrick Jasper (4.0 ppg) is a 6-6 point guard who recorded an impressive 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists against UCLA.
Tubby On Hot Seat?: How can a coach with a winning percentage at 77% be under pressure from the fan base? There are a few factors at play. First, for whatever reason, Tubby Smith has never been completely embraced by the UK faithful -- even after winning the national title in his first season in Lexington. Second, expectations are sky-high at UK and he's been unable to reach the Final Four since that title season, including three losses in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Last year's 22-13 record was the most losses a Wildcat team has had since the 1989-90 season and the fourth time that Smith has posted a double-digit losses record at UK. Third, Smith's recruiting has been deemed sub-par by Wildcat die-hards. Other than a sensational late finish to his 2004 signing group, Smith's recruiting classes have lacked blue-chip prospects. Looking at the Scout.com rankings, UK did not sign a prospect ranked in the Top 30 in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and not yet in 2007 either.
Series History: The Tar Heels are 18-10 all-time against Kentucky. UNC and UK began a home-and-home series in 2000-2001, with the Wildcats winning the first four and Carolina winning the last two. UNC prevailed last season, 83-79, at Rupp Arena, getting a game-high 25 points from Reyshawn Terry.
Background Location: Lexington, Ky. Enrollment: 26,900 Conference: SEC Nickname: Wildcats Colors: Blue & White Head Coach: Tubby Smith Record at UK: 245-73 (10th year) Last Year: 22-13 (9-7)
Projected Starters: 3 Ramel Bradley (6-2, 176, Jr.) – 12.0 ppg, 3.2 apg 32 Joe Crawford (6-5, 211, Jr.) – 14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg 13 Bobby Perry (6-8, 215, Sr.) - 6.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg 23 Sheray Thomas (6-8, 236, Sr.) - 1.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg 33 Randolph Morris (6-11, 259, Jr.) – 16.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg Reserves: 20 Jodie Meeks (6-5, 206, Fr.) – 6.8 ppg 21 Perry Stevenson (6-9, 178, Fr.) – 6.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg 5 Derrick Jasper (6-6, 213, Fr.) – 4.0 ppg, 2.7 apg 1 Michael Porter (6-2, 180, Fr.) – 2.7 ppg 10 Lukasz Obrzut (7-1, 265, Sr.) – 2.0 ppg, 0.5 rpg 43 Jared Carter (7-2, 250, So.) – 1.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Perry ....... Morris
Thomas ....... Bradley
Crawford ....... Meeks
(Photos courtesy Getty)