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Will Kentucky or North Carolina improve more by March? Kyle Macy says Cats have better upside

Kyle Macy

By LARRY VAUGHT

When Kentucky lost at North Carolina early in the 2010-11 season, it was possible to project that Kentucky would be a better team if the two teams met again later in the season because of the dependence the Wildcats had on freshmen.

Kentucky did come back and beat North Carolina in March, too, in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.

But what if the two teams play again in the NCAA Tournament this season? Which team figures to have improved more from the time of UK’s one-point win last week until March Madness rolls around?

“I like UK’s upside more as they are younger and still learning, plus with the season they will gain valuable experience. Not to mention the talent level is pretty good,” said former UK All-American point guard Kyle Macy, who now works as a TV color analyst and is also a Lexington radio sports talk show host.

Both teams are good. Really good.

And don’t forget that even with North Carolina’s older roster, the Tar Heels also have some talented newcomers and the team will likely improve as players become more accustomed to playing together.

Kentucky has a senior — Darius Miller — playing in coach John Calipari’s system for the third season. Two others, sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, are in year two. For Calipari, that could be as much experience as he’ll have among his top seven players while he’s coaching at Kentucky.

“If I am doing my job, players are leaving here,” said Calipari. “If I coach them right, they will be ready to move on (to the NBA).”

With the high level talent he recruits, he’s right.

Still, Macy sees a big upside for Kentucky. The Wildcats have four freshmen — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer — among the top seven players and it’s impossible to believe all will not be better in March than they are now even though they have already been good enough to help beat Kansas and North Carolina.

“But I also think a guy like (senior Eloy) Vargas is going to keep getting better,” Macy said. “The whole bench is doing what it is asked to do. Just come in and be solid. That’s what they need from Vargas, and he’s doing it. Block shots. Rebound. Play defense. Be physical. If he can do that for eight to 10 minutes, that’s huge for Kentucky.”

If Vargas can do that, and it seems Calipari is starting to believe he can, it makes it easier to give Davis and/or Jones a needed break.

“Kentucky is so young, you know it will develop and improve,” Macy said. “I think with North Carolina, you may already know what you are going to get.

“The talent level, from top to bottom, is better at Kentucky. Calipari may not play as many players and the last guy may not be as talented as North Carolina’s guy, but at the top Kentucky is more talented.”

He’s right because last week’s game showed that Kidd-Gilchrist can more than hold his own with North Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes, a preseason All-American like Jones. It showed that Davis can hold up inside against Carolina’s Tyler Zeller and John Henson if he becomes more physical like he did the second half.

“Then don’t forget that Wiltjer is going to improve. There are questions about his strength and quickness, but he can bang and rebound,” Macy said. “He’s also such a threat on the perimeter to score, but he can also go inside and do damage like he did against North Carolina. To me, he is maybe the wild card for Kentucky. You can put him in a game and see how he is doing. If he can maintain his own on defense, then you can keep him in and let his offense really cause problems. Teams don’t usually have a guy like that to bring in off the bench.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams says Kentucky has one thing most teams don’t have — scoring versatility.

“They have the ability to score at every position,” Williams said. “I think they are trying to get one of their good players an advantage and then be a basketball player. The lateral screen underneath is tough to handle, the flat screen out front,” Williams said. “We were pretty good defensively, they made some big time shots and it’s hard for a coach to say we were good defensively when they shot 56 percent in the second half. But they’re willing to run some clock also.

“It’s not just throw up the first bad shot. So for me, I’d like it a lot better if John would let them take bad shots but I don’t think they did that. I think what he was doing offensively is what they work on every day. If they take some bad shots it usually helps us and I didn’t see many.”

That’s because Kentucky did maintain its poise against the more experienced Tar Heels and won a December game that no one would have been shocked to see the Cats lose. But the good news for UK is that the players seem to understand they not only can get better, but they must get better.

“We felt like this was a test to see where we are at, playing against one of the best teams in the country, and we come out with a W,” Miller said after the North Carolina game. “I think we are pretty happy and proud about it, but we know we aren’t exactly where we want to be.”

And that’s why if the two teams do play again, one has to believe UK will be an even better team.

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3 comments

  1. KyCats75

    Talk of a UNC-UK rematch in the Final Four is just silly. We’ll meet much sooner. The NCAA will give UK a 6-seed and put us in the same region.

  2. TheProfessor

    I believe that Kyle Macy is right, and that come March, a rematch of UNC and UK would be in name only, and UK would win pulling away. In my mind, UNC is in the Cats’ rear view mirror, and those who are keeping pace with them at this stage of the season, and likely to be there at the end will be Ohio State. There are several other teams that will compete for the other two final four positions, but UK and OSU are establishing themselves to this point and separating from the pack.

  3. LindaS

    Kyle said every thing I would have said. Kentucky is young, the talent potential just needs to be developed a little more. They will learn with each game and to me there is not limit to what they will be able to do. You have so much to work with and the best developer of basketball talent at UK. He takes young boys and makes them into talented, confident young men by the end of the season. As for fartolina, who gives a big flying pig about them? Not I, they are history and they won’t stand a chance the next time we meet. Go Cats! (I’m so ready for Saturday!)

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