Scout/Jeff Drummond

Will Kentucky Wildcats need to 'go big' against North Carolina Tar Heels?

As Kentucky prepares to face last year's national runner-up, North Carolina, on Saturday in Las Vegas, John Calipari has been mulling whether the Wildcats may need a tweak to his rotation in order to match up with the Tar Heels' impressive frontcourt.

The No. 6 Wildcats (9-1) have been playing primarily with a three-guard lineup and a wing to go along with center Bam Adebayo for most of the season to date. While that has yielded some nice offensive production -- UK currently ranks third nationally at 94.4 points per game -- Calipari's squad has shown occasional vulnerability in defending the interior and on the glass.

Enter No. 7 North Carolina (10-1) which is built to exploit those areas of inconsistency. 

The Tar Heels enter the CBS Sports Classic matchup No. 1 nationally in rebounding margin at 14.8 more than their opponents. They have scored 20 or more second-chance points in five games this season, including 25 off 22 offensive rebounds in a 73-71 win over Tennessee last week.

Physical UNC frontcourt stars Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260) and Tony Bradley (6-11, 240) average a combined 21.8 points and 15.8 rebounds per game.

"They’re an unbelievable rebounding team," Calipari said of the Tar Heels. "... They’re big and they fight for position."

Kentucky is coming off a 96-73 win over unranked Hofstra in which the Cats were beaten 45-41 on the glass. It was the fourth time this season the opponent has pulled down more rebounds than UK. The Cats' season rebound margin (6.7) is less than half that of the Tar Heels.

“We’ve been practicing putting six guys out there seeing if we can slide a sixth guy out there," Calipari said with a heavy dose of sarcasm. "I don't know (what the solution is)."

The Cats have the physical tools to be a good rebounding team. They're long and athletic. Adebayo is already proving himself to be one of the best rebounders in the freshman class. But it hasn't come together for the team yet.

"Some of it is fight," Calipari continued. "Some of it's just put your best rebounders on the floor... If a guy can't keep a guy off the glass, can he play this game?"

Could a "big lineup" be a solution? Sophomore center Isaac Humphries has offered 4.3 rebounds per game although he's averaging just 11 minutes of action. Freshman forward Sacha Killeya-Jones has also made strides of late in practice.

“We’re gonna try everything," Calipari said.

And that may include going with a completely different approach.

"I may play four guards," he said. "Mychal Mulder was like a four at (junior college). So I could put he, Isaiah Briscoe, two guards and a big guy. Maybe we’d be better that way. Maybe they have to change.

"I mean, we’ll try stuff, and that’s the greatest thing about not having to go game to game. ‘We gotta win.’ This isn’t like the football season where if you lose this one, that one you’ve got no chance for a national title. That’s not what it is, but we have different things we have to try. I do want to give everybody a chance to prove either they should be playing or not. Coaches don’t make those decisions. Players make those decisions.”


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