With Saturday's highly anticipated matchup between the Kentucky Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels (5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) fast approaching, we asked former coaches Seth Greenberg and Bruce Pearl to break it all down. They each provided a scouting report on the biggest keys for both sides of the ball, with Greenberg taking the role of John Calipari and Pearl the role of Roy Williams.
Be efficient with the ball: Defensively in the half court, North Carolina will play man-to-man with a few possessions of point zone. In their man, the Tar Heels hope to use their length and are active off the ball. They look to run through passing lanes. It is important to set up cuts and meet passes. When driving to the hoop, it's crucial to take the ball at their shot-blockers. On post passes, they will scrape the post off the passer.
Look to push the ball, as UNC at times this season has struggled in defensive transition, though it loves to push the ball as well after a missed shot. Remember, bad attempts will lead to good offense for the Tar Heels, so we must limit that.
Feed the beast: We must establish Julius Randle early. Expect him to be doubled, so he'll need to use his back dribble to create space to throw out of. Proper spacing is necessary for this to be effective. James Young, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison must either get to the "window" or be a cutter to the rim. Finish all cuts! Willie Cauley-Stein must put himself in a position to get to the glass.
Win the paint battle: Be hard to block out and establish deep post position. In our dribble-drive motion offense, get two feet in the paint at all times. Our guards must get downhill, play through the defense and read kickouts and dump-offs. North Carolina has been inconsistent rebounding the ball this season, so we must be relentless. The Tar Heels gave up 21 offensive rebounds in a loss against UAB but outworked Michigan State on the backboards in a win. We need to take control of the interior.
Limit the Tar Heels backcourt: North Carolina is led by 6-foot-1 sophomore Marcus Paige, its sneaky-quick lefty point guard. He looks to push the ball at every opportunity and is a big-time shooter with NBA range. Paige likes to create space off the jab step. You cannot go under on ball screens when defending him. He has a runner and is a good passer.
Nate Britt plays off Paige. He will push the ball in transition and has a pass-first mentality. You can gap him. It's important for us to keep Paige and Britt out of the lane and contain them in transition. Offensively, I look for the Wildcats to use their size to attack the undersized backcourt off the dribble and off closeouts. Wing J.P. Tokoto is ultra-athletic and a great offensive rebounder, but he struggles shooting the ball, so you can gap him and play him for the drive.
We must pressure Paige on all ball screens so we can get over the top. The screener's defender must arrive with the screen at the level of the screen. Being late and soft will give Paige room and rhythm.
Don't let the Tar Heels frontcourt get comfortable: Up front, the Tar Heels are deep and versatile. James Michael McAdoo can shoot the ball to 15 feet but is best running the floor. He is an alert off-ball defender but can be driven in the half court. He is joined by a combination of big, physical, athletic posts and power forwards in Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. Johnson is the most athletic of the frontcourt players, as he runs the court hard, finishes off dump-offs, is an active offensive rebounder and can knock down the 15-foot jumper. He would rather groove his right shoulder.
Meeks is a big, physical low-post player. What he lacks in lift he makes up with excellent footwork and hands. Be careful of his shot fake and step through. He must be cut out on the shot. Meeks is an excellent wedge rebounder. Make sure to limit Isaiah Hicks and Joel James on the glass as well.
Make North Carolina set up its half-court offense: Offensively, the Tar Heels are looking to push at every opportunity. They will contest and leak out for run-outs. The better shot selection and execution we have on offense, the better the defensive transition. In transition, it's crucial to run with their bigs, as they look often to early post.
Once in the half court, Paige will use trail drag screens to get in the lane or will hit ahead. North Carolina will run out of a box set as well as flow to motion. This is a hard-cutting team. Communication, early talk and being alert are absolutely essential.
Attack the hoop early in the shot clock: We must score against Kentucky before it can get its defense set. The primary focus is to get to the rim before its post presences can establish position in the paint. Michigan State did that in its 78-74 win early in the season, and we must do the same.
The most effective way to score is in transition. In order to run, you have to rebound first. John Calipari has to make a choice: Will he send four players to the offensive boards like Michigan State did and run the risk of getting beat in transition? Or what Belmont did when it beat us in Chapel Hill and sag back to its own zone? That decision could loom large.
Don't turn the ball over: Once Kentucky is back defensively, you must make them cover. Be patient and see if the young Wildcats will gamble, overrun the ball or foul. You must do this without turning it over and giving them easy baskets. We forced 14 turnovers in our win against Michigan State, so we can't let it happen to us.
Establish post presence from the opening tip: The ball must go inside early and often. We've done a strong job at reversing the ball and creating angles for our posts to score at the rim. That needs to continue, though it will be a challenge. You can't make tough 2-pointers against Kentucky because of its length. Drop steps and high-lows must be used to score in the paint.
Marcus Paige's improvement from long range will come into play. He shoots 39 percent from 3-point range, so when doubled inside, kick it out for the open shot. Paige's quickness and ability to score from anywhere on the court can turn this game in our favor.
Contain Julius Randle: We must limit Randle's touches and force the ball elsewhere. Be physical against him and see if you can get him to catch it off the block. This forces Randle to put the ball on the floor, where he can be stripped and ripped, rather than in the post where he's most comfortable.
When he does catch it deep, you must mix up doubling him on the catch and on the bounce. Doing so will keep him off balance and not allow him to get into any kind of rhythm.
Force Kentucky to take 3-pointers: Build a wall defensively and make the young Wildcats beat you from the perimeter. Baylor did it with zone, which we will implement at times Saturday. We'll also use a helping, hedging man-to-man. Andrew Harrison (38 percent from 3-point range) and James Young (34 percent) are solid deep shooters, but let's tempt anyone else from the outside. It should look like all five defenders are holding hands and playing red rover. And when Andrew Harrison drives, slide your feet and cut him off.
Keep the Wildcats off the offensive glass: The most important factor in whether we win or lose will come on the boards. We gave up 21 offensive rebounds in a loss against UAB, and that can't happen again. It's such a boost to an offense's energy and confidence, especially for a young team like Kentucky. If we can keep them off the glass -- offensively and defensively -- we have a serious chance to win.