BGTD: Assessing Kentucky vs. North CarolinaPosted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2011
What a game. It was the most highly-anticipated regular season game of the college basketball season with good reason. The likelihood that both of Kentucky and North Carolina will be playing deep into next March/April is better than not, and although we find the “look how many NBA players there are on the court” mantra somewhat tiresome, there’s no denying that elite talent was peppered all over the Rupp Arena floor this afternoon. Let’s take a look at some of our thoughts and observations from today’s early Christmas present to hoops fans around the nation.
- CBB Atmosphere At Its Best. It’s really, really hard to completely silence Rupp Arena, yet at a couple of points in the first half — notably when Kendall Marshall and James McAdoo dropped threes to give UNC an eight-point lead twice, you could hear the coaches yelling at their players on the sidelines, sneakers squeaking, and the ball bouncing off the floor. That’s no easy task in a building that holds over 24,000 people. But as Kentucky mounted its inevitable comeback in the second half, the old barn roared to life. When Marquis Teague’s layup a few minutes into the second half finally gave UK its first lead since the opening minute, the energy coming from the place could have fueled all the power needs for the city of Lexington for the next several days. It never relented the rest of the afternoon. Given the overall atmosphere of Rupp, the high quality nature of the play, and the regal names on the front and back of the jerseys, today was a special day that captures what college hoops is all about when it’s at its best.
- Kidd-Gilchrist Was the Star of Stars. Anthony Davis may get all the attention (including from his coach, who has declared Davis as the definite #1 pick in next year’s draft) and he may have been the less heralded player in his matchup against preseason 1st team All-American Harrison Barnes, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the best player on the court today. It is easy to forget that he was the top recruit in his class until his senior year when some recruiting services moved Davis and/or Austin Rivers ahead of him. Kidd-Gilchrist may not have that one skill that makes NBA scouts jump out of their seat, but he does a lot of things well and you would have a tough time convincing us that there were many players in the nation tougher than him after the show he put on today. While Terrence Jones kept the Wildcats alive early, he did not score another point after hitting three free throws with 4:27 left in the first half. After that, it was Kidd-Gilchrist leading the way as he scored 14 of his game-high 17 points when Kentucky most needed it. Davis and Jones may get most of the headlines for the Wildcats, but today showed that opposing teams would be wise to game plan for Kidd-Gilchrist too.
- Anthony Davis Is a Work In Progress. After the game everybody wanted to talk about the late block by Davis on John Henson’s final jump shot. While it was an outstanding block and something that we would not have gotten to even if we were holding a broom, it is worth pointing out that Davis didn’t really play all that well today. For most of the first half he was abused by Tyler Zeller, who quickly realized that he had to make his move early on Davis before the precocious freshman could collect himself to rise for the block. Davis is unbelievably long and athletic with a ceiling that makes NBA scouts and fans drool, but he is nowhere close to a finished product right now. Davis probably will end up being the top pick in next year’s NBA Draft, but it isn’t because he is the best player or even the best freshman in the country. In fact, he may not be the best freshman on his own team. But as we discuss below breaking down the final play, he has tools that are simply beyond normalcy — it’s going to be simply a matter of harnessing them.
- Harrison Barnes Comes Up Small. We don’t want to come too hard on Barnes because we saw what he was capable of late last season, but today he was outplayed by Kidd-Gilchrist. Part of this was due to some early foul trouble (picking up a dumb third foul with 6:19 left in the first half when UNC was up by seven), but at times he seemed to drift a bit and he certainly was not as assertive as the Kentucky freshman. He is probably still a top 10 prospect, but we should stop expecting him to be a superstar every game until he proves that he can do it on a consistent basis. We should also probably re-evaluate where he is in the pecking order of college basketball stars and whether he is still the regular go-to guy that we thought he was last season or if UNC should spread the ball around a little more in late-game situations. He made a clutch three with just over three minutes remaining to keep Carolina alive, but he should be more than a long-range jump shooter (4-5 threes today, but only five FGs) given the overall skill set that he has developed.
- The Phenomenal Davis Block. John Henson is an awkward, unnatural jump shooter, and his catch wasn’t clean on a tipped pass to the spot he was standing with eight seconds remaining, but we’d wager that Anthony Davis’ swooping block coming from somewhere around Section 230 at Rupp Arena is the first time he’s ever been packed on a wide open jump shot when he left his feet. That’s how phenomenal that defensive play was. Davis was standing right in front of the basket when the ball hit Henson’s hands about twelve feet to the right side of the basket. Watch the replay closely. In less than a second with one step and a leap, Davis’ hand covered about 15 feet of space and met Henson at the top of his jump to swat the ball back into his hands to secure the victory. That play alone may have secured his selection as the #1 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Not only did it save the game for Kentucky, it was the kind of play that makes scouts take notice — if you hadn’t seen it before, those Marcus Camby comparisons forced themselves out of the screen on that play.
- A Strange Ending. After the Davis block, it appeared that UNC just gave up on the game. There were at least five seconds remaining when he secured the ball after the tip, and even after finding Marquis Teague in the corner to dribble the clock out, the Carolina players only half-heartedly ran at him to commit a foul. Once a Tar Heel got to Teague with about a second left on the clock, he only provided a very light push to his back which was not (and should not have been) called. Roy Williams will without question use this as a teaching moment for his guys, because Kentucky had just missed the front end of a one-and-one prior to the Henson/Davis shot-block, and there would have been at least a second or more remaining had the Heels put UK back on the line. The other side of this is that for the second time in a little over a week, a player in live game action picked up the ball and started running with it prior to the clock expiring. Last week in Maui, Wesley Witherspoon did the same thing in a game against Tennessee, turning the ball back over to the Vols for a last shot attempt, and today’s culprit was Teague. He tucked the ball on his hip in the open court with just under a second and started running with it, thinking that the clock had run out. Luckily for the Wildcats, there was no whistle (the refs probably couldn’ t hear the horn), and the game ended just after that. Without question, both coaches will have a few teaching moments deriving from the last six seconds of what was otherwise a pretty entertaining game.