Commentary

Josh Harrellson key to UK-UNC game

Pace of play and Tar Heels' size could cause problems for the Wildcats

Updated: March 26, 2011, 3:32 PM ET
By John Gasaway | Basketball Prospectus
Josh HarrellsonAP Photo/Julio CortezJosh Harrellson will have to keep UNC big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller in check.

Remember awhile back when everyone was fretting about the Kentucky Wildcats, and the fact that they kept losing close games on the road? Observers looked at the Wildcats' 2-6 record in SEC road games and said that coach John Calipari's team was unlikely to make it very far in the NCAA tournament. Teams that can't win away from home, the thinking went, certainly can't win away from home in the NCAA tournament.

That is indeed customarily the case, but clearly Kentucky in 2011 represents an exception to that tendency. The Wildcats and their ugly 2-6 conference road record are one game away from the Final Four after a thrilling 62-60 win over No. 1 overall seed Ohio State on Friday night. How has UK won six games in a row -- counting SEC tournament games -- outside of Rupp Arena? And, looking ahead, what are the Cats' chances against a very good North Carolina Tar Heels team in the Elite Eight?

Here are one observer's thoughts:

It's not that surprising that Kentucky has made it this far

Obviously, the team that wins a given game was better than its opponent on that particular night. But teams that lose games can still be very good teams -- especially if they're losing those games on the opponent's home floor. Kentucky emerged from the SEC regular season with a good, but by no means great, 10-6 record -- but that tally was a little misleading. The Wildcats were actually 0.12 points better than their SEC opponents on each possession they played, a scoring margin that compares favorably with the margins posted last year by the Michigan State Spartans and West Virginia Mountaineers on their way to the 2010 Final Four. A bounce here or a tip-in there and Kentucky's 10-6 record could easily have been 12-4 -- or even better. In that event, we'd be somewhat less surprised to find this team in the Elite Eight, but their overall performance really wouldn't be significantly different.


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