The holiday weekend is nearly upon us, and with it comes a pair of high-profile college basketball matchups on CBS. The 5th annual CBS Sports Classic takes place this Saturday afternoon at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois featuring four of the sport’s biggest names. UCLA meets number 15 Ohio State, followed by ninth-ranked North Carolina taking on 19th-ranked Kentucky.
In order to get ready for the games this weekend, we caught up with CBS Sports college basketball analyst Steve Lappas, who gave us some insight into the teams and matchups for Saturday.
CBS Local Sports: Ohio State has gotten off to a 9-1 start this season, suffocating teams defensively, allowing just 61.9 points per game. What has stood out to you most about Chris Holtmann’s squad so far?
Steve Lappas: He has done a great job, as you said, defensively. When you are holding people to 29 percent from the three-point line and 37 percent overall, you are doing a heck of a job, and he is. He has an extremely good point guard in C.J. Jackson, who is a really good defender on the ball. But, the development of Kaleb Wesson into one of the best big guys or really one of the best players in the Big 10 has really been a tremendous boon to them.
They have blended in some good, young guys as well. With the ability to throw the ball inside to Wesson, he is a guy that gets to the foul line a lot. He is a tough guy to guard and shoots seven foul shots a game. Between Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson, the Buckeyes have a solid duo to go along with a bunch of supporting-cast guys. This team just has the right chemistry right now.
CBS Local Sports: They face UCLA this Saturday on CBS. The Bruins, at 7-3, are coming off a loss to Belmont their last time out and have dropped both of their previous games against Top 25 teams this season. What are the biggest adjustments Steve Alford’s team needs to make before this weekend?
Steve Lappas: They have been very inconsistent on the defensive end. Michigan State and North Carolina, in particular, just absolutely torched them. Obviously, those are two quality teams, but against Belmont, they just didn’t play well offensively. When they don’t play well, their defense lets them down, and they turn the ball over more than they need to. That has been a problem for them this season. They have been very, very inconsistent.
The fact that they got blown out by Michigan State and North Carolina was surprising, because this is a talented team. They have good size, with experienced guys like Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes to go along with a stud freshman like Moses Brown. Brown has been really good nearly averaging a double-double this season. They have a lot of talent that is very young, and they have to find their way.
CBS Local Sports: Later in the day, two of the sport’s blue bloods, Kentucky and North Carolina, square off. The Tar Heels knocked off Gonzaga over the weekend 103-90, moving to 8-2 on the season. What’s the biggest threat that the Tar Heels pose to opponents?
Steve Lappas: The way they get the ball up and down the floor. One thing that has always been true of Roy Williams’ teams historically is that they get up and down the floor quickly. Now, they have Luke Maye, of course, but they added Cam Johnson as a transfer from Pitt, and he has been playing well. Johnson is a tremendous shooter.
On top of that, they have 11 or 12 guys that Williams is rotating in there every game, especially the big guys like Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. But, the big thing is, they have Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson, who are consistent scorers. One other thing, they destroy you on the glass. That’s been a staple of Roy Williams teams as well, and this year is no different.
CBS Local Sports: Kentucky, despite being 9-2 on the season, still feels like a team figuring out how to play together, which always seems to be the case at this point in the year for John Calipari’s team. What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses you see from the ‘Cats at the moment?
Steve Lappas: It’s not a vintage John Calipari team in terms of talent this year. They just don’t have the same kind of guys talent-wise, especially on the perimeter. They aren’t getting the solid point-guard play that you have to have on a regular basis. They do have some good players, like Keldon Johnson, who is a tremendous scorer, but the strength of this team is in the interior, with Reid Travis and P.J. Washington.
It’s a team that doesn’t have true point-guard leadership right now, and I think that is the thing that they are searching for. It’s funny, because if you look at the assist-to-turnover ratio on the team, they don’t have a guard that has a 2-to-1 ratio. That’s the key to being a good guard is having at least that ratio, and they don’t have anybody like that.
CBS Local Sports: With that in mind, in this matchup, how does Kentucky look to stop North Carolina?
Steve Lappas: I think the thing that works out well for Kentucky in this matchup is that I can’t see them getting destroyed on the glass. Second-chance points is a big advantage for North Carolina, and I don’t think they are going to find those second-chance points so easily against Kentucky.
They (North Carolina) are going to have to do a little bit better job of scoring on their initial set. Don’t get me wrong, they take good shots, but the best thing they do is go get the misses and put them back. I don’t think that is going to be there against Kentucky. I’m anticipating this being a really good game.