Story by: Kyle Graham
Later tonight, two of the most prestigious collegiate basketball programs of all-time clash head-to-head in pursuit of punching their ticket to the Final Four. However, let’s disregard these blue-bloods histories for the moment (Even though between the two, they have a combined 13 National Championships and 228 total players drafted in the NBA) and focus on tonight’s matchup.
Just solely based on the NBA talent alone, this matchup garners your attention. Kentucky’s backcourt is loaded with potential lottery picks in Malik Monk (SEC Player of the Year) and De’Aaron Fox and UNC’s Justin Jackson (ACC Player of the Year) is also a potential top 15 pick in the NBA draft. Monk and Fox have torched their opponents throughout the entire season and it will be very interesting to see how UNC handles them on defense.
Point Guard Joel Berry is still playing on a sore ankle after spraining it in the opening game of the tournament. UNC will need him to play through it and step up now more than ever if they want to see themselves playing in Arizona next week.
If that doesn’t catch your interest, then maybe this will. The last time these two teams faced off it was in the CBS Sports Classic last December where Malik Monk set a new Kentucky freshman record in points scored with 47. It was an electric back and forth offensive showdown with multiple lead changes that eventually came down to Malik Monk hitting a game-winning three with 15 seconds left on the clock to edge out the Tar Heels. Justin Jackson on the other side set a new personal best of 34 points as well, but it just was not enough to overcome Monk’s incredible game.
The key to this game however is UNC’s best perimeter defender, Theo Pinson, who did not play in their previous matchup due to a fractured foot. If Pinson (alongside of Berry) can limit Monk’s and Fox’s scoring production, UNC can come out on top. Of course, that would have to include Berry and Jackson replicating their hot shooting from their Sweet 16 matchups against Butler, in which they combined for 50 points in a game that UNC dominated from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
The Tar Heels have more size and lead the nation in rebounding, so that should not be much of a problem for them. However, I do expect Kentucky’s bigs Edrice “Bam” Adebayo and Derek Willis to challenge UNC’s big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks who have both been struggling with foul trouble as of late.
This surely has the ingredients to be the best matchup and game of the tournament. In many ways, I expect this game to have the intensity and feel of a National Championship game that ultimately may come down to a last second play. More importantly, I believe that whoever wins this game will most likely go on to win this year’s National Championship.
Featured Image for this post courtesy of NBC College Basketball Talk