The "Who’s No. 1?" debate is going to rage all season, even after the currently top-ranked Tar Heels face now-No. 2 Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Dec. 3. (Heck, at least one coach in the ESPN/USAToday coaches poll already feels like everyone else has it wrong.)
But SI.com’s Luke Winn makes a prediction, after watching the Wildcats beat Kansas on Tuesday night: Maybe not now, maybe not even on Dec. 3, but by the end of the season, the Wildcats will be the better team. Why? Defense:
“The current version of Carolina is not capable of playing that sloppily, because its point guard, Kendall Marshall, is a maestro,” he writes. “And yet ... it isn't capable of the breathtaking display of defensive athleticism that UK used to break open the game in the second half, either. Anthony Davis (who had seven blocks and helped hold KU star Thomas Robinson to 11 points) is John Henson with more range. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (who added three blocks, and helped lock down KU's backcourt) can be a perimeter stopper like no other. Terrence Jones can hold his own on the block.”
This is a notable take, considering UNC coach Roy Williams’ continued statements that his squad can -- and needs to be -- a good defensive team. The Tar Heels don’t have the same firepower as the ’09 national title squad, but Williams says this team is better defensively than that one, what with Henson's rejections around the block, Harrison Barnes' length on the perimeter, Tyler Zeller's knack for taking charges, and Dexter Strickland's ability to stay in front of his man.
Kentucky, Winn writes, has more room for growth, particularly on the offensive end. Could the final decision, come April, about which team is No. 1 come down to whether UNC’s defensive abilities can expand at the same pace?
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.