So North Carolina lost a ton of talent from their NCAA Championship team last year, they are play a bunch of freshmen, they are unranked and they are playing Kentucky, a top ten ranked team, in Rupp Arena where the Heels have never won. Easy win for the Cats, right?
Not so, says Kentucky coach Tubby Smith at the coach's press conference at Memorial Coliseum today, and it is apparently that no one else on the team is taking the Tar Heels lightly. "They are the defending national champions," coach Smith said, "and their coach is Roy Williams. We are going to have our hands full. They are bigger than us in nearly every position. We are going to have to slow them down and score more points."
Coach Smith refers to the fast-pace of the North Carolina Tar Heels, a youthful team with tremendous talent and athleticism. The Heels have a high powered offense that has managed to put 80+ points on the board in three of their first four games. And they are a team that, while unranked, gave 12th ranked Illinois everything they could handle before falling by four points at the end. Coach Smith also refered to what he feels has been suspect shot selection at times by his players and the importance of taking (and making) good shots.
In their first two meetings against quality, ranked opponents, the Cats shot 33% against #18 Iowa (a loss) and 54% against #13 West Virginia (a 14-point win). What has seemed to frustrate Tubby the most has been the Cats' lack of consistency scoring on the inside, a legitimate fear knowing that one of the most celebrated freshmen in the nation will be playing against them Saturday, "Tyler Hansbrough (6-foot-9, 235 lb) is leading them in scoring and rebounding (17.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg). We recruited this young man and he is showing the nation why so many good teams wanted him."
"They are a great rebounding team, especially on the offensive end," Smith added, "and we have not always been the best at blocking out. We are going to have to fix that Saturday. They are a very talented team that will beat us if we are not 100% ready and execure."
The boards are a natural concern when one takes into account some of the size differences, "We can get ourselves into some trouble, if we aren't careful," Tubby said, "Hansbrough is a big kid, 6-foot-9 and (junior forward) Rashawn Terry is 6-foot-8. Senior (forward) Noel is 6-foot-6. So, if you start Bobby Perry at the power forward spot and Rekalin Sims at the center spot, we can really give up a lot of size. That has been our dilemna. We really have to have one of our post people show up to really contribute. Lukasz Obrzut showed promise the other night so maybe he will get the nod, I don't know yet. We will see how it goes."
Tubby said that handling Hansbrough would be one of the keys to the game, "If we do not give our defenders help inside, he is going to make you pay," Tubby said, "Tyler is a hard nosed scrapper and plays aggressive and finds his way to the line a lot. That is one of the things about UNC basketball. They usually make more free throws than the other team takes."
Much has been made of North Carolina's inexperience, particularly in the back court, but the young Tar Heels have impressed Smith, "Marcus Ginyard is a big kid and has really been doing a good job for them," Smith said, "he had his best game so far against a good opponent, Illinois. Bobby Frasor is an outstanding young man. He gets his teammates involved."
Read the game preview from the North Carolina site.
Tubby Smith said Joe Crawford will not suit up for the North Carolina game due to tenderness resulting from a hip pointer. Tubby would not speculate on his return but said an MRI was negative.
One positive note might be that 7-foot-3 sophomore Shagari Alleyne may be back in the lineup after being with held from the lineup due to academic considerations. "I hope he is back. I have not heard today about his academic status but the day is not over," Tubby said with a short, tongue-in-cheek laugh.