In the second half of the Las Vegas doubleheader and the crown jewel of Saturday’s action, two of the most storied programs will go at it in a game that could have major seeding ramifications come Selection Sunday, or perhaps set up a Final Four rematch.
The CBS Sports Classic has been very kind to North Carolina, with the Tar Heels knocking off Ohio State in 2014 and UCLA a season ago. They have also been very successful historically against Kentucky, holding a 23-14 advantage. However, the Wildcats dominated the last time the two faced off, winning 84-70 in 2014-15.
But of course, none of that has any bearing on who avoids their second loss on Saturday. Kentucky’s Malik Monk will hopefully get a lot of time matched up with UNC’s Joel Berry II in what could be one of the most exciting one-on-one battles this season. That is, of course, assuming Berry plays, as he missed the last two with a sprained ankle. The Tar Heels could be in trouble if he can’t go, as they struggled through single-digit wins over Davidson and Tennessee in the games that Berry missed.
This game could be a shootout, with Kentucky ranking third and North Carolina 11th in the nation in points per game. If UNC wins, it will likely have something to do with its 8.1 difference in rebounding margin over the Wildcats, while John Calipari will look to his team’s athleticism and deep roster to avoid a second loss on national TV in three weekends.
The doubleheader at Bankers Life Fieldhouse concludes with the fourth matchup in six years between the in-state rivals. Yes, that overtime loss at Fort Wayne is still the elephant in the room when it comes to the Hoosiers, but they would probably be No. 1 if not for the slip-up. And based on their résumé outside of that night, it’s probably fair to chalk it up as a fluke.
Indiana handed both Kansas and North Carolina their only losses, while dominating an easy schedule otherwise — with the exception of the Mastodons. The Hoosiers are doing it with an average rebound margin of plus-14.8, tied with North Carolina for the best in the country.
Meanwhile, Butler ranks just 194th with a plus-1.1 rebounding margin, so the Bulldogs will have to find a way to keep Indiana off the glass. The Bulldogs don’t particularly stand out in any category, but they are a solid, veteran team that can put on consistently good performances. Like the Hoosiers, Butler had a major blunder by losing at Indiana State earlier in the month, but against ranked teams Arizona and Cincinnati, the Bulldogs looked great. Expect more of the same as they aim for the upset in Indianapolis.