top of page

Heel Tough Blog: CBS Sports Classic - Kentucky Preview

AP Photo

After a ten-day layoff, the Tar Heels return to action this afternoon, renewing their rivalry with Kentucky, in the annual CBS Sports Classic. Carolina last played on December 5th, a loss to UConn in the Jimmy V Classic, in a game that concluded six games, in fourteen days, before a much-needed exam break. Carolina went 4-2 in that stretch and picked up marquee wins over Arkansas and Tennesee. The extended break allowed Carolina to catch their breath, evaluate the areas they can build on, and improve upon. 

Kentucky enters this game, with a 7-2 record, but one of those losses happened at home against UNC-Wilmington. Outside of that puzzling defeat, this group has looked the part so far, battling hard with Kansas in the Champions Classic, and routing Miami in the ACC/SEC Challenge. John Calipari’s team is among the best offensive teams in the country, scoring over 90 points per game, with several guys averaging double figures scoring. Not only do the Wildcats score the ball at a high rate, they do so very efficiently, including from behind the three-point line, where they shoot 41% as a team. Like they do every year, Kentucky has young, inexperienced players playing at a high level, and that can be said about Rob Dillingham, who is averaging nearly 15 points per game, and almost 5 assists per game, to go along with 4 rebounds. Like Trsiten Newton, Dillingham will be a handful for a Carolina backcourt that is looking to improve on the defensive end of the floor. 

When Hubert Davis met with the media earlier in the week, he stressed the importance that his team become more consistent at rebounding the basketball. The Tar Heels rank 92nd in the country in total rebounds per game, at 38.8, but they are 99th in offensive rebounds per game (12.0), and 127th in defensive rebounds per game (26.8). The loss to the Huskies last week in MSG exposed Carolina’s inability to rebound the ball against the nation's elite teams. If Carolina wants to keep playing its smaller lineup, there needs to be more desire for other starters outside of Armando Bacot, to get to the glass, and help rebound the basketball the way we’re used to seeing Tar Heel teams from the past do so. 

The Wildcats are already the third-ranked team that Carolina has played already, with this being their tenth game of the season. UNC is 1-1 in their first two ranked contests of the season, beating nationally ranked Tennesee, and losing to UConn.Here’s how they can earn their second win of the season over a ranked opponent, and in the process, elevate themselves in the hierarchy of teams around the country:

  1. Win the Race to 90: There’s no denying that this game is going to be fast-paced, with points being scored early and often. Kentucky is sixth in points per game, at 90.6. Meanwhile, Carolina is twenty-fifth in points per game, at 85.1. While there will be plenty of possessions, Carolina still needs to make the most out of them and do what they’ve done as well as anybody has in the country, which is getting to the foul line. The Heels average making 21.2 foul shots per game, which is the third-highest mark in the sport. They do that while attempting 28.0 free throws per game, which happens to be the fourth most in all of college basketball.  A few years ago, these two played an instant classic in this event in Las Vegas, a 103-100 win for Kentucky. Don’t rule out seeing that type of offensive production, when these two high-octane offenses meet in Atlanta. 

  2. Defend the Perimeter: Kentucky shoots the three as well as anybody in the country, and they have multiple guys on the court that can make perimeter shots at any given time. Ever since the Tennesee game, Carolina has been a little in that particular area of their half-court defense, which hasn’t been up to par. Expect Seth Trimble to get a lot of runs off the bench, trying to wear down as many guys as he can with size, length, and physicality. Hubert Davis has shown a willingness to try different defenses when something isn’t working. Don’t be surprised if you a zone look from the Tar Heels, if Kentcuy gets hot from deep. 

  3. Win the Rebounding Margin: UConn was always going to be a bad matchup for the Tar Heels, as they have as much size as any power conference team in the country, which was a reason why they out-rebounded Carolina last week. The Tar Heels matchup is much better with this Kentucky squad, who at any given time, its tallest player will be 6-9. After the majority of the break spent trying to get better in this particular effort, Carolina needs a vintage rebounding effort that we’ve seen from this program consistently over the years. It has to be a team rebounding effort, and not just an Armando Bacot rebounding effort, to get the job done. 

Series History: 

  • Carolina is 25-17 all-time against Kentucky, but they are 1-3 against the Wildcats in the CBS Sports Classic. On neutral courts, UNC is 13-7 against Big Blue, including owning a 2-0 record in Atlanta. The Tar Heels are the only program in the country that has played Kentucky more than 10 times and has a winning record against them. 

CBS Sports Classic History:

  • Carolina is 6-3 all-time in the CBS Sports Classic. They are 3-0 against Ohio State, 2-0 against UCLA, and 1-3 against UK. 


  • North Carolina - 15th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 119.5 (7th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.7 (48th)

  • Kentucky - 22nd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 118.0 (13th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 98.2 (52nd)


  • North Carolina - 32nd.

  • Kentucky - 36th.

TV Info: Today’s game is set to tip at 5:30 PM on CBS. 

The Four Corners Podcast:


bottom of page