If anything is to be gleaned from Kentucky's 75-73 loss at North Carolina Saturday, it's that the Wildcats -- though solid on the perimeter -- really, really need Enes Kanter. Carolina exposed Kentucky for what they are: a soft team that will be forced to win games with shooting and a solid transition game.
Kentucky shot well enough to win, but they simply had no answer for Tyler Zeller in the post. Zeller, who went for 27 points and 11 rebounds, was coming off two games where he scored one point or less in each. That is to say, Zeller, while arguably North Carolina's best player, isn't exactly a powerhouse on the low blocks.
Even so, he's effective when he gets the ball in the paint. And another thing: He has far more experience than the three guys Kentucky trotted out to stop him. Josh Harrellson has played well in the early season -- so much so, in fact, that after Kentucky blasted Boston University on Tuesday night, the Terriers' head coach referred to him as "Mother Hen." In retrospect, that isn't really much of a compliment and is, in fact, frighteningly accurate. Harrellson -- and why not lump backup center Eloy Vargas in here, as well -- lacks the size and ability to play with big men with any semblance of offensive ability. The fouls -- over the backs, reaching for entry passes, out-of-position blocks -- were as unnecessary as they were silly. Terrence Jones -- a small forward, really, who was forced to play four and try to handle Zeller after the former two hacked their way to the bench -- fouled out on a hand check 22 feet from the basket.
The good news, however, is that most of these deficiencies can be hidden. For starters, this team will only grow, mature, and get better. One more made three and this game has a different outcome, after all. Furthermore, with the Kanter decision still uncertain, there is a chance the Kentucky gets some good news from the NCAA in the coming weeks. With the Turkish big man, though, the Wildcats will be left trying to win games with their guards, something that will hurt them when facing teams -- like UNC -- with scoring big men.
However, the secret's out. There's a clear formula for beating this Kentucky team, and it starts and ends with getting them in foul trouble. With only 10 scholarship players available, they are thin at every position. And with their apparent propensity to foul -- they committed 26 Saturday and had four players foul out -- it's a formula that they need to guard against.