At first glance, this year's version of the Kentucky Wildcats might resemble a "Who is gone?" versus the team they will field. The players who are no longer wearing the blue and white could form a team who might contend for an NCAA berth.
Center Marvin Stone has transferred 70 miles to the west to "Lil' Bro", or the University of Rick Pitino (ie. Louisville Cardinals). UNC's favorite ex-Heel/Cat, Jason Parker, has moved south to Gamecock country; Rashaad Carruth left for the Sooners, only to have a "Miss Manners" handbook presented to him there as well, and he is now a shooter without a team, at last report. Cliff Hawkins is still a Cat, however he is ineligible for the first semester, and questionable for the remainder of the year. In addition, reserve guard Corey Sears departed from the commonwealth. And just this week, highly touted juco Antwain Barbour broke his hand and is out for a month or so.
The Heels can't let their guard down when the Cats invade the Dean Dome this year, and I am sure Doherty is well aware of the talent that Tubby and the Cats still possess. This will be a great test for the young Tar Heels.
Even though UK lost some very good players, they were able to replace them, and not just body for body, but Tubby has added some excellent talent, in addition to the veterans they will suit up. Living in Lexington, I am able to keep up with UK quite a bit. I also was able to catch the entire team in action over the course of the summer in a new league at Kentucky Basketball Academy (KBA).
Here is a brief rundown on what we can look for from UK's top players:
Gerald Fitch: Even though he had some off-court issues last year, he will be one of the leaders of this team. He is probably one of the best combo guards in the country, and there might not be a better 6-3 rebounder around. He will play the 1 and 2 and had an excellent summer showing at KBA. He has to show his true offensive skills but now that Barbour is on the shelf, look for him to score more.
Keith Bogans: Tar Heel fans might not recognize him when he comes to town. He has slimmed down and resembles a middleweight boxer. Not only has his vertical increased, he is much quicker and has improved his overall game. Stopping Keith is a must if the Heels are to win this year.
Marquis Estill: One of the PF/C players the Cats have. Heel fans remember him from his last visit to the Dome. He will provide a formidable challenge to UNC's inside players.
Jules Camara: another of the combo big men. He has given UK fans much grief the last two years, primarily due to the fact that he can have an All-American type game and then totally disappear. From a size standpoint only, he will provide matchup problems.
Chuck Hayes: Hayes became a surprise last year, and started the last nine games for UK. He is a Jason Parker with a jump shot. He could provide one of the bigger mismatch problems UNC has. He is 6-6 but plays bigger.
Antwain Barbour: one of the top JUCO's from last year. A pure swing man in every sense of the word. Has a great handle, hops, and can get to the hole. He can play the 1,2, or 3 depending on the lineup. (now injured and will not play)
Kalenna Azubuike: Another 6-5 prototype swing man. Azubuike is not your ordinary freshman, especially in attitude and size. He has had a personal trainer for a few years and it shows. A very well-mannered young man, he is simply an outstanding basketball player. He entertained thoughts of turning pro, and after seeing him in the KBA, I can see why. He had a solid game against Gonzaga and will now see more court time that Barbour is out.
Erik Daniels : Another experienced front line player for UK. A good passer, he will provide quality minutes when he is in the lineup.
UK will be a deep team, and one of the more athletic teams in the country. It is too bad this game can't be played in a pick up type atmosphere.....ESPN highlights would be in abundance, as both teams will possess the talent to get up and down the court in a hurry. I am looking for a very fast paced and exciting game. UK, with the experience, should be favored, but once the ball goes up, it is anybody's game. I know both teams have this one marked on their schedule.
On Friday afternoon, Inside Carolina's J.B. Cissell attended a press conference by Matt Doherty at the Dean Smith center. Following are excerpts and notes:
We're excited about playing a basketball game against a great, great program in Kentucky. They are as talented or more talented than any team we've played. We are certainly going to have to play very well to have a chance to beat this team.
What do you think of Estill who had a great game two years ago?
He's a great player. I'm really impressed with him. He's got great hands, he really can run, he can score inside, he can block shots, he is a good passer out of the post. He's a talented kid--as talented a big guy as there is out there.
Virginia defeated this team, largely using a zone defense. Will you do that some against Kentucky?
I've thought about it, but I don't think that's who we are. I remember talking about defensive identity. I want our defensive identity to be man-to-man. I don't want to be going man to zone. We may play a possession or two of zone, but I think they've gotten better.
With most teams, the last thing they work on is probably zone offense. Kentucky got stung a little bit in Maui against Virginia, but they've gotten better in their zone offense. Hopefully our strength--it wasn't in our last game--is our man-to-man defense. That's what we'll hang our hat on, but I wouldn't be surprised if we throw a zone out there every once in a while, just to see how they react.
Illinois had some success with their hi-low offense from their big guys. Do you expect to see that from Kentucky?
They do run a lot of high-low stuff, and they are good at it. Jules Camara is a great passer, and Estill has great hands. That's part of their offense, and that's part of the offense that I'm concerned about.
What do you think of the experience in Kentucky's backcourt, versus the inexperience with yours?
Fitch, even though he's not a point guard, has, I think, 16 assists and five turnovers, which is a great ratio for a guard. He seems comfortable running the show. I like that kid. I think he's a tough kid and a great defender. He's unselfish.
They've fallen into their roles nicely on this team. It looks like everyone understands their role on the team. Bogans is one of the more talented guards in the country, for sure. He was last year as a junior.
You've coached basketball at Kansas and now UNC. Kentucky is another school that's at the elite level. Is it different that those schools than it is some other schools?
Yes, I think it is. I think there is a difference. You don't have to educated people on how to run a big-time program. At Notre Dame I had to get the band to come out for a game. They were practicing for a football game, and I had to get them to come out to the basketball game--it was the Preseason NIT and we won.
We were playing Siena on a Thursday night, I think. It was band practice for the football game on Saturday. I remember screaming at the band director, saying "You either show up at the beginning of the game, and be there when we come out for warm-ups, or I don't want to see you." They were going to come at halftime. You don't understand.
I had to get the cheerleaders to be there when our players first came out on the floor to warm up, because they used to show up later. I talked to the guys [on the team], and they'd say that when we'd come out for warm-ups the cheerleaders wouldn't even be there. Those are the kind of things that you have to educate people on.
I remember waving the students on the floor after a big win--trying to get them to understand. You don't have to do that at Kentucky, Carolina, or Kansas.