Kentucky (32-5) vs North Carolina (30-7)
When: Sunday, March 26th 2017
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Time: 5:05 ET | TV: CBS
Two of the most storied programs in NCAA history will meet on Sunday as the Kentucky Wildcats battle the North Carolina Tar Heels for the right to go to the Final Four next weekend. The Wildcats beat North Carolina 103-100 back on December 17th in Las Vegas as Malik Monk scored 47 points, a freshman record at Kentucky, hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 16.7 seconds left. Kentucky beat third-seeded UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen 86-75 on Friday night, getting 39 points from freshman guard De’Aaron Fox and a little payback after the Bruins went to Kentucky and beat the top-ranked Wildcats earlier this season. Kentucky also won games by single digits over Northern Kentucky and Wichita State in the first two rounds of the tournament. Kentucky will need strong performances in the middle from 6-10 freshman forward Bam Adebayo and 6-9 senior forward Derek Willis, their only two starters down low. They didn’t fare too well against UCLA’s size, combining for 10 points and 12 rebounds, and the Wildcats didn’t receive any help up front off the bench. North Carolina starts four guys that are between 6’6″ and 6’10”. Kentucky is the NCAA leader in all-time victories (2,239) while North Carolina sits third (2,203).
The Tar Heels beat fourth-seeded Butler 92-80 in the Sweet Sixteen and their two leading scorers, Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II, came through big time, scoring 24 and 26 points, respectively. Jackson, a 6-8 junior forward, scored a career-high 34 points against the Wildcats in December, and Berry, a 6-foot junior guard, scored 23. Senior forward Kennedy Meeks, a former McDonald’s All-American, wasn’t expected to stick around for four years, but he made the decision to keep coming back and might be the biggest difference-maker in this game. Meeks is not only 6’10”, but weighs 260 pounds and should be able to have his way down low against the Wildcats. He played only 20 minutes before fouling out in the earlier meeting against Kentucky, but still scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, numbers that figure to improve if he can stay on the court. The Tar Heels have a +47 rebounding margin through the first three games of the tournament. North Carolina will be looking for their 20th trip to the Final Four – most in NCAA history – with Kentucky third at 17.
Kentucky’s guard play was excellent against UCLA, but they won’t have the same success against North Carolina. The Tar Heels, in my opinion, have the best roster top to bottom. I’m looking for Meeks to have a big game down low and be the difference maker in this one. This will be one heck of a game, but the Tar Heels will win and cover.
Pick: North Carolina -2.5
HEAD TO HEAD