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ACC Roundup

Heels, Wildcats put on a show in Vegas

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NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Kentucky
Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) dribbles against the defense of North Carolina Tar Heels guard Kenny Williams (24) during a game at T-Mobile Arena. Kentucky won the game 103-100
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was quite a day for college basketball. Butler upset Indiana 83-78. #10 Creighton barely avoided an upset, beating Oral Roberts 66-65. Purdue held off a game Notre Dame by going small and winning 86-81. But the game of the day, without question, was UNC-Kentucky.

It was a great, great game.

Well we’re sure a lot of coaches would pick it apart on technical grounds and on defense (203 points says great defense was not a priority). But a great game for the rest of us?

Heck yeah.

The headliner was Malik Monk who scored 47 points, threatening Dick Groat’s all-time scoring record against the Tar Heels (the former Blue Devil scored 48 against UNC in 1952 - no three pointer or shot clock - a record that has stood for 64 years. By comparison, Babe Ruth held the home run record for 39 years).

Monk hit 18-28 (64.2%) and 8-12 from three point range (75%).

For UNC, Justin Jackson had a huge day but was overshadowed, inevitably, by Monk. Jackson finished with 34, a huge day most days, but no one is much talking about that.

Both teams were exposed to an extent though. Yes Monk was hot, but having one guy shoot nearly 40% of your shots (37.8) is not good.

The rest of the team combined hit just 22 shots - just four more than did Monk alone. And of those, De’Andre Fox hit nine.

And there is a lot of talent on the Kentucky roster. Partly it’s UNC’s defense and experience but still.

As for the Heels, the balance was a bit better - five guys hit double figures - but any fair observer understood Kentucky had vastly more talent. Fox has the wrong last name - it should be Greyhound. He’s a brilliant talent. And John Calipari has a lot more too.

In this game, only Jackson and Joel Berry II really kept up and though he was superb, Berry ultimately fouled out. So did Kennedy Meeks, who simply couldn’t keep up, and foul-prone Isaiah Hicks had four.

This game brought up clear memories of others, first of all UNC’s epic final last spring against Villanova.

This UK team isn’t as tough (yet anyway) as Villanova was, but it was tough enough. In winning time, the Cats came through and UNC buckled.

UNC must hate Wildcats. Even Davidson nearly did them in.

It also brought to mind the Laettner Game in 1992.

This is at least partly because of the score - Duke-Kentucky finished 103-102. In that game, though, Christian Laettner stepped up to a level of greatness that people are still talking about.

There was no Laettner in this game although Monk was pretty great. He carried his team and hit a huge shot late to take the lead back.

UNC got a shot off with less than a second to go but Kenny Williams came up short and stuck the ball between the rim and the backboard, so no Laettner in this one.

So a great game, but tournament level?

Not at all.

First, there wasn’t a lot of defense. UNC couldn’t stop Kentucky’s elite athletes and UK’s elite athletes just aren’t that good defensively (yet).

Second, both teams were happy to run pretty much non-stop and that doesn’t happen so much in March. Teams slow it down and every mistake - and there were plenty in this game - becomes critical.

And we’ll say this too: if these teams meet in the tourney, our money is on UNC. Why? Because the Heels have been there. The pressures of March and April force a conservative game. Teams that can play more deliberately have an advantage. Experience helps too, as we said. For a great example, see Wisconsin the last few years.

Or Notre Dame.

The Irish are a bit off their recent highs but not that much. Mike Brey has retained his players and brought them up in his system and as upperclassmen, they know what to do.

So while Purdue had a huge size advantage, the Irish forced the Boilermakers to abandon it and go small. It worked; Purdue sat 7-2 Isaac Haas and came back and beat Notre Dame. Caleb Swanigan had 24 points and ten rebounds to pace Purdue.

Everyone should understand that this is a very dangerous Irish team though. This group gave Villanova fits and nearly upset Purdue on the road. There’s not going to be much slippage.

Wake Forest had another chance to make a statement game and the Deacs came up short but not by much: Xavier hit three free throws in the final :19 seconds to ice the win.

If Wake had shot well at all, the Deacs likely would have won. Wake finished at 36.2% and hit just 5-25 from deep.

On the bright side, John Collins had his sixth straight double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Brian led the Deacs with 20.

The rest of the starters chipped In just 18; the bench managed 15.

The Deacs are getting better but they’re not quite there yet.

The other interesting game was Georgetown-Syracuse. The Georgetown fan base may getting a bit impatient with John Thompson III. In the last three years the Hoyas have finished 18-15, 22-11 and 15-18.

Syracuse, on the other hand, has lost four of its last six after falling to Georgetown, which isn’t very promising.

Tyler Lydon had a huge game, hitting 12-13 and finishing with 29 points and nine boards.

Tyler Roberson continues to fade though, playing just six minutes off the bench.

Unfortunately it was Pearl Washington Day. Syracuse was unable to honor its late hero with a win.

Syracuse’s transfer big man Paschal Chukwu hurt his eye earlier in the season. On Saturday, Chukwu underwent eye surgery for a detached retina. He could miss the rest of the season.

Without him Syracuse is down to eight players.

The rest of the games weren’t nearly as interesting though Virginia Tech, after trailing VMI 44-40 in the first half, scored 73 in the second.

You have been warned.

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