Turnovers the difference as No. 18 North Carolina beats No. 11 Kentucky

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Saturday’s game against No. 11 Kentucky represented both a challenge and an opportunity for No. 18 North Carolina. Already in possession of wins over Louisville and Michigan State, a win over the Wildcats would give North Carolina victories over each of the three teams who sat atop the AP preseason poll. The challenge: keeping the young Wildcats off of the offensive boards and out of the paint.

North Carolina didn’t do a great job in the rebounding department, as Kentucky did manage to rebound 47.2% of their missed shots, and they also scored 34 points in the paint. But the Tar Heels made up for this by converting the Wildcats’ 17 turnovers into 22 points, and they outscored Kentucky by four in the paint on their way to the 82-77 victory in Chapel Hill.

While those losses to Belmont and UAB were disappointing, the fact of the matter is that North Carolina has a resume that no other team in the country can match at this time. And for all the discussion about what this team could be when (it’s probably better to use the word “if”) P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are declared eligible, Roy Williams’ young bunch has shown signs recently that they’ll be OK with or without those two.

After a four-game stretch in which he shot 12-for-41 from the field junior forward James Michael McAdoo scored 14 points in a win over UNCG last Saturday, and he followed that performance up with a 20-point outing against Kentucky. He may have grabbed just five rebounds, and much of his scoring damage was done at the foul line (12-for-19), but McAdoo was more aggressive and North Carolina needs that from him on a consistent basis. McAdoo isn’t a “great” rebounder, and the Tar Heels will do much of their work in that area collectively anyway, but he can ill-afford to not be engaged in the action if this team is to be successful.

McAdoo wasn’t the only player to make strides on Saturday either. J.P. Tokoto scored 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, making it three double-digit scoring efforts in the last four games. He may not be the greatest perimeter shooter (to be fair Tokoto did know down a couple on Saturday), but in order for Marcus Paige (23 points, 10-for-10 FT) to have the room he needs to operate on the perimeter another option has to emerge. Tokoto’s ability to get the basket can help North Carolina offensively, and that was certainly the case in the first half as he scored 11 of those 15 points.

Leading into Saturday’s game, much of the discussion regarding North Carolina centered around who they were without and what they can be when Hairston and McDonald return. In light of North Carolina’s win, it may be time to shift to discussing what this current group can become. And while it certainly didn’t look good earlier this season, the Tar Heels seem to be finding their way.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

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“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.