No. 6 Kentucky beat No. 7 North Carolina 103-100 in what was one of the best college basketball games that you’ll see.
Malik Monk went bananas. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II had (almost) enough answers. And the result was a thriller that came down to the final seconds.
Here are the five things we learned from that game:
1. So that Malik Monk guy is pretty good: Can you think of a more impressive performance than the one that Malik Monk had on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas?
Buddy Hield’s 46 points in Oklahoma’s loss at Kansas, the No. 1 vs. No. 1 game from last January, comes to mind, but Buddy did that in three overtimes. Denzel Valentine’s 29-12-12 game in last year’s Champions Classic. Jeremy Morgan had 38 points in one half for Northern Iowa last weekend. All terrific, but I’m not sure any of them are in the same class as what Monk did on Saturday.
Forgetting, for a second, that Monk scored 47 points on 28 shots – the majority of which were jumpers, he only got to the foul line five times – in a 40-minute game against the No. 7 team in the country, Monk buried contested threes twice in the last two minutes to answer a North Carolina baskets. The first came after Justin Jackson gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the game at 98-95. The second came with 15 seconds left with Kentucky down 100-98.
He carried the Wildcat’s offense for 38 minutes.
Then he made the two shots he had to make to ensure that this team wouldn’t lose.
2. Should we be concerned about Kentucky’s supporting cast?: While he wasn’t quite as good as Monk was, De’Aaron Fox probably would have been considered the Player of the Day on any other day, finishing with 23 points and 10 assists. Combined, Fox and Monk took 49 of Kentucky’s 74 shots and 12 of their 21 free throws. They scored 70 of Kentucky’s 103 points.
It was dominant.
But what happens when Monk isn’t incapable of missing, or if Fox goes up against a defender that’s able to keep him out of the paint? In other words, when the Wildcats are playing against competition like this, are they going to have to rely on those two playing like this to win?
There are two reasons I bring this up:
- Kentucky didn’t really have a third option avail himself. Bam Adebayo played much better in the second half than he did in the first, but outside of about a five-minute stretch in the second half, he was mostly anonymous. Bam finished with 13 points and seven boards before fouling out. Briscoe added 10 points, seven boards and four assists, but his best role on this team is as a glue-guy largely due to the fact that he’s always going to struggle to score against this level of competition. Does Kentucky have a third option they can count on? Do they even need one?
- Suddenly that vaunted Kentucky defense doesn’t seem so scary. The Wildcats gave up 97 points on 83 possessions to UCLA in Rupp Arena. They gave up 100 points on 79 possessions against UNC. Their perimeter is supposed to be the strength of the defense, but they let Justin Jackson go for 34 points and were torched by Joel Berry II, who had 23 points and seven assists, in ball-screen actions. Put another way, it looks like they’re going to have to be able to score in the 90s if they want to beat elite teams. Can they do that if either Monk or Fox has an off-night or gets into foul trouble?
3. What a difference a Berry makes: Without Joel Berry II on the floor, North Carolina struggled to put away Davidson and then nearly got upset by Tennessee, both games that happened in the Dean Dome. Against Tennessee, Justin Jackson finished shooting 3-for-15 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three.
Fast forward six days and the Tar Heels traveled across the country and not only survived the raining hellfire that was Malik Monk’s shooting but came back on them and took the lead in the final minute. Jackson? He finished with 34 points in what was without a doubt the best performance of his career as Berry went for 23 points and seven assists, carving up Kentucky’s ball-screen defense.
Berry is not only UNC’s second-leading scorer, but he is the guy who creates better looks for everyone else on the floor. If the last two games wasn’t enough to prove it to you, Saturday was. And if you still don’t believe it, you cannot be helped.
4. Just how good are North Carolina’s big men?: First things first: North Carolina is really, really good. I’m not sure they’re ‘Steal The ACC Title From Duke’ good, but they’re definitely good enough that a Final Four isn’t unlikely; if they finish second in the ACC I think they’re probably looking at a No. 2 seed at worst. Berry and Jackson can quite clearly hold their own with any 1-2 punch in college hoops, and the Heels are still waiting to get Theo Pinson back.
But there is a concern with this team: Their front court. Do they have a shot-blocker? Do they have a low-post scoring threat that is, truly, a threat? Kennedy Meeks is a land-warrior that always seems to be in foul trouble. Isaiah Hicks is a freak athlete that has never capitalized on his gifts. Tony Bradley is a freshman that is still learning just how good he can be.
The million-dollar question is if it will matter. Think about it like this: Of the top six teams in the country – Duke, Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA – no one has a front line that is overpowering. Gonzaga and Baylor do, but I’m not convinced they’re on the same level. In fact, there aren’t many teams anywhere in the country that have a front line that will strike fear in UNC’s hearts.
5. This win was enormous for Kentucky’s chances at a No. 1 seed: Kentucky has as many marquee non-conference games as anyone. They got Michigan State in the Champions Classic. They played Arizona State and Hofstra in nationally-televised neutral site games. They beat UNC today and still have Louisville in the Yum! Center next week and Kansas in Rupp Arena next month.
But they lost to UCLA. Beating the trio of Michigan State, Arizona State and Hofstra isn’t all that notable. The SEC doesn’t have another elite team in the league. If Kentucky had lost this game, they probably would have had to beat both Louisville and Kansas for any shot at getting a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. They probably still need to win both of those games to feel comfortable, but at least with this win they know they have one elite win in the bank.
Malik Monk set a Kentucky freshman record with 47 points and De’Aaron Fox chipped in with 23 points and ten assists of his own as No. 6 Kentucky knocked off No. 7 North Carolina in a thriller in the CBS Sports Classic, 103-100.
Monk’s 47 points are the most anyone in college basketball has scored this season. He buried a pair of threes in the final two minutes – including one with 15 seconds left to give Kentucky a 103-100 lead – to seal the game:
“I said drive it and he shot a three and it went in,” John Calipari said after the game. “Way to go, kid.”
The magnitude of this performance shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Only one Kentucky player in the last two decades has topped the 47 points that he scored on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas – Jodie Meeks, who went for 54 points in 2009. Monk is a guy that’s starting to develop a reputation for thriving under the bright lights, but that’s not the only reputation that Monk has.
As a star in high school and on the AAU circuit, Monk was known for his streakiness and his inconsistency. He’d have a performance like this one night and then turn around and shoot 2-for-18 in a loss the next. The question was whether or not that would follow him to the college level. Could a guy who was known for running hot and cold carry a team as the only real perimeter scoring threat?
Saturday taught us just how good Kentucky can be when Monk is good.
Keep in mind, this wasn’t just any team that the Wildcats dispatched. This was No. 7 North Carolina who was in the midst of playing their best game of the season. Justin Jackson had a career-high 34 points. Joel Berry II finished with 23 points and seven assists.
This wasn’t a fluke. It was a statement.
Monk can carry this team.
But it also is a cause for concern, not because of Monk, but because Kentucky needed this kind of a performance to win a game they seemed to be in control of for 40 minutes.
Monk scored 24 points in the first 15 minutes to help Kentucky open up a double-figure first half lead. He and De’Aaron Fox, who finished with 23 points and 10 assists, kept that lead at a comfortable margin throughout much of the second half. And still, in the final two minutes, Monk needed two hit two threes for UK to survive.
It begs the question: What happens on the nights when Monk doesn’t have a performance that will find its way into the history books?
We may already have an answer. Two weeks ago, Monk scored 24 points – five above his average – and Fox had 20 points and nine assists in a loss to No. 2 UCLA in Rupp Arena.
This win was proof that Monk can carry Kentucky, that Monk and Fox are good enough to lead the Wildcats to a win against anyone.
But it was also proof that the Wildcats need to be more than just a two-man team if they’re going to bring title No. 9 back to Lexington.
Kelan Martin scored 28 points and No. 18 Butler used a 10-0 run to close the first half and open up a 42-28 lead as the Bulldogs held on to beat No. 9 Indiana, 83-78.
Kamar Baldwin and Andrew Chrabacsz both chipped in with 14 points.
The Hoosiers missed all eight of their threes in the first half, which was one of the biggest reasons that they found themselves in a 14-point hole heading into the final 20 minutes. The Hoosiers did make a run down the stretch, however, and cut Butler lead to just two points with less than a minute left. But Thomas Bryant fell asleep on an in-bounds pass with 16 seconds left, forgetting to cover Tyler Wideman, whose dunk more or less sealed this one.
James Blackmon Jr. had 26 points to lead the way for the Hoosiers while Thomas Bryant had 15 points.
Here are the three things I took away from this game:
1. It’s time to take Butler seriously: Let me clarify this before Butler fans flood my twitter mentions: Yes, we already should have known this team was good. They won at Utah. They beat No. 25 Cincinnati. They beat No. 19 Arizona. They have wins over Northwestern and Vanderbilt. They’re good.
But until today, I don’t think we realized just how good they are. Because Indiana is, without question, the best team the Bulldogs have beaten. The win wasn’t some fluke, either. This wasn’t a situation where Butler scored a flurry of points in the final minutes or got lucky because Indiana was in foul trouble or hit a half-court buzzer-beater to win. The Bulldogs took a lead early and closed the first half on a run that put them up 14 at the break. This was a game where Kelan Martin had 28 points and was, at least for today, the best player on the floor. This was a game where Butler had an answer every time Indiana made their run.
When James Blackmon Jr. hit a three to cut the lead to four with four minutes left, the Bulldogs scored the next four points. When Blackmon hit another three to cut the lead to two with 30 seconds left, Butler got a dunk on a perfectly executed out of bounds play.
This Butler team isn’t just good, they’re a team that will have a shot at getting to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and, in all likelihood, will make some noise in the Big East title race.
2. No team in the country has as big of a gap between their ceiling and their floor as Indiana: When the Hoosiers are at their best, they can beat anyone in the country. Ask Kansas. Ask North Carolina. When their threes are dropping and they’re active and intense on the defensive end of the floor, the Hoosiers are really, really dangerous.
But that’s not always the team that shows up.
In the first half.
Indiana is going to struggle against teams that are able to muck things up on them. When they can’t get out in transition, they’re going to struggle to score. When they can’t get open three-point looks, they’re going to be a limited offensive team. They just don’t have a go-to guy that can get them a bucket against a set defense. It looked like it was going to be Blackmon early in the season, but Blackmon has been inconsistent in that role. He can score in transition and he can get hot and bang three or four threes in a row, but he’s not a guy that you can give the rock to when you need to end a run or when the shot clock is running out.
And that’s what makes these Hoosiers beatable.
3. It’s time to give Tyler Lewis some love: The former McDonald’s All-American left N.C. State after two seasons of struggling to get starters’ minutes. He sat out a year before becoming eligible at Butler and … struggled to get starters’ minutes. This season, however, Lewis is averaging 25 minutes and he’s one of the most valuable players on the floor for Chris Holtmann. He’s averaging 5.2 assists, he doesn’t turn the rock over and he’s a quintessential “pure point guard”, the kind of guy that makes his teammates better without needing to show up in the box score.
That’s a point guard on the receiving end of this alley-oop.
That’s pretty impressive.
We learned something about No. 2 UCLA on Saturday: The Bruins don’t have to play well to win games.
Facing off with Ohio State in the opener of the CBS Sports Classic out in Las Vegas, the Bruins committed 12 first half turnovers and had one of their poorest shooting performances – they went just 10-for-30 from three – and the Bruins still managed to beat Ohio State, 86-73.
The outcome never felt like it was in doubt, either.
The Buckeyes hung around. They spent the entire second half within striking distance, as Marc Loving kept hitting shots and JaQuan Lyle kept making plays, but there was never truly a point where it seemed as if the Bruins were truly in danger of losing control of this one. Whenever the Buckeyes would make a push to cut the lead to six or seven, the Bruins would find an open three or get a couple of buckets in transition. It was like playing your little brother one-on-one: You know that you can coast a little bit, but every time he scores a couple of baskets in a row, it’s time to remind him that he is, yanno, the little brother.
And on the one hand, that’s a concern.
This was anything-but UCLA’s best. There were more defensive lapses than we’ve become accustomed to with this group. They let Ohio State muck things up for them offensively. They didn’t hit as many open threes as we’re used to seeing them hit. They were really sloppy in the first half. It happens, and the Bruins were able to turn it on when they needed to in order to pull away, but that’s not something they’re going to want to make a habit out of, particularly once we get into league play.
But the other side of it is that the Bruins were able to coast to a 13-point win over Ohio State in a game where they put forth somewhere around a C+ performance. As the saying goes, great teams win games when they play poorly, and that’s exactly what UCLA did on Saturday.
Aaron Holiday, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton combined for 57 points. Lonzo Ball nearly notched a triple-double – eight points, nine boards, nine assists – while fellow freshman T.J. Leaf added 13 points and eight boards.