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December 2, 2011

Kentucky, Carolina stocked with NBA-caliber talent

Doron Lamb doesn't mince words when it comes to evaluating Saturday's Kentucky-North Carolina game at Rupp Arena.

"I think we're more talented than them, really, on offense and defense," said Lamb, UK's sophomore shooting guard. "We block shots way more than them, I think. I think our guards are way better than them. We're ahead of them a little bit, I think."

Really, though, it's splitting hairs to argue the more talented roster when No. 1 Kentucky hosts No. 5 North Carolina.

ESPN.com NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford posted on his Twitter account Friday that the game features six projected lottery picks, nine players in ESPN's top 30 and 12 players in its top 100 draft prospects.

That includes UK's Anthony Davis, projected as the No. 1 pick in next June's draft.

More than 20 NBA scouts, general managers and player personnel staff are expected to attend Saturday's game to see what's projected as the richest collection of NBA talent on a college court in years.

John Calipari, asked on Friday if he'd ever been part of a game so stocked with pros, recalled another. It was considerably less balanced.

"Well, there had to be other games, because Kentucky had nine pros on one team in '96," said Calipari, then the coach at Massachusetts. "They played us and we had one (pro), so that would have been 10."

All the talent on the court will show the Cats (7-0) just how far along they are, and they plan to use the game as a measuring stick.

"There is going to be a lot of great players, creating a lot of great competition. It's going to be a great way to test ourselves," sophomore Terrence Jones said.
And at noon tomorrow when the ball tips, all the build up will fall into the hands of the players and senior Darius Miller hopes it lives up its hype.

"There has been a lot of talk about (the game) and a lot of hype," Miller said. "Hopefully the game is at the level everyone thinks it will be at."

Sophomore Doron Lamb likes playing with and against future NBA players, but he'll love it if his shade of blue comes out on top.

"We want to be on top and be the best team in the country," Lamb said. "We have swag now that we believe we are the best team in the country, we want to be the top team."

Return Engagement?
On paper, Saturday's game is one of the best in the 34-game history of the Kentucky-North Carolina rivalry.

It could be the last for a while.

Saturday's game is the last on the current two-year contract. Neither UK or North Carolina has committed to playing the game beyond this season.

The Wildcats and Tar Heels have played every year since the series renewed in the 2000-01 season. Prior to that, the rivalry had been on hiatus. Then-UK coach Rick Pitino put it on ice after the 1991-92 season.

"It's one of the great rivalries of college basketball," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Friday. "It's a game that gets a vast amount of attention, but there were eight or nine or 10 years when the teams didn't play and both teams were able to survive. They both went on, and I think that could happen now also."

But that's not set in stone, Calipari said.

"Roy and I have talked," Calipari said. "Both of us still want to play the series and know it's important for both programs, but, you know, there's only so many games you can play."

Both the SEC and ACC could add games to their conference schedules going forward, altering how Kentucky and North Carolina construct their nonconference schedules.

"I'm hoping our league stays at 16 games," Calipari said. "If the league stays at 16 games it's easy; it's an easy decision."

Cats Illustrated staff predictions
Brett Dawson, Publisher: Kentucky 72, North Carolina 70
Games this early in the season rarely live up to the hype, and the Wildcats and Tar Heels are candidates to underperform if only because the expectations are unfairly off the charts, given the early date. But let's imagine for a moment that they don't. Let's let ourselves hope that shots are swatted, dunks are crushed and the offenses are a thing of beauty, halfcourt and full. Even given each team's preferred pace, the score isn't likely to climb too high - there will be long, athletic, motivated defenders all over the floor - but just maybe this thing comes down to a shot and a stop in the closing seconds. Given that Kentucky's at home, the guess is the Wildcats are the ones making those key plays.

Steve Jones, Recruiting Editor: Kentucky 78, North Carolina 76
This game has lost a bit of national hype because of Carolina's fall from No. 1, but it's hard to dream up a more exciting college basketball game. Two of the sport's winningest programs meeting when each is a national title contender. Former McDonald's All-Americans galore. Future NBA players galore. An amazing young offensive star, Harrison Barnes, matched up with an amazing young defender, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Anthony Davis and John Henson swatting shots at each end. An elite post scorer in Tyler Zeller on one team and a versatile power forward In Terrence Jones on the other. Contrasting, elite point guards. Skilled shooting guards. Bench players better than most teams' best starters. Two superstar coaches. It's too hard to pick a winner, so we'll go with the home team in what could be the most electric atmosphere a Rupp Arena in years.

Ben Jones, Staff Writer: Kentucky 83, North Carolina 79
It's bizarre that a game featuring the two best frontcourts in college basketball will probably come down to 3-point shooting, but that could be the case. Kentucky's defense has been good enough recently that they'll never fall far behind, and if a few long-range shots can drop then the Wildcats will take control. Potentially losing P.J. Hairston hurts the Tar Heels tremendously. He was shooting 45 percent from three-point range while the rest of the team was shooting a combined 38 percent. If Kentucky can avoid a sluggish start, they should be in good shape.

T.J. Walker, Staff Writer: Kentucky 77, North Carolina 75: This is the game everyone has been talking about since UK knocked out UNC in last season's Elite Eight, and finally it's here. It's not the No.1 vs No.2 clash everyone was anticipating but it still involves the two most talented teams in the country. The key to the game, much like last season's tournament game, is three-point shooting. The Cats shot lights out in March propelling UK to a Final Four. UNC's bugbear this season, again, is three-point shooting and with Hairston out for the Tar Heels, it doesn't help UNC's chances. Both teams are unguardable when hitting from outside, and with UK having five players who are dangerous from deep, I like the Cats chances in what could be one of Rupp's greatest games.


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