2015 CBS Sports Classic: Get to know UNC, UCLA, Kentucky and Ohio State

The CBS Sports Classic takes over the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on Saturday, with three ranked teams in action for a doubleheader that can be seen on CBS and here on CBSSports.com. First, North Carolina will play a white-hot UCLA team at 1 p.m. ET then Kentucky gets Ohio State at approximately 3:30 p.m. ET.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch much of the Tar Heels, Bruins, Wildcats or Buckeyes yet this season, we’ve assembled a handy guide to get you ready for Saturday’s matchups.

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (8-2)

Players to know: Marcus Paige (17.3 PPG, 54.2% 3FG), Brice Johnson (14.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG), Justin Jackson (14.0 PPG, 52.4% FG)

Preseason expectations: The Tar Heels were the preseason No. 1 team in the country and the excitement of this veteran-led squad had UNC fans picturing the team’s first return to the Final Four since cutting down the nets in 2009.

Best of 2015 so far: After losing to Northern Iowa in Marcus Paige’s Homecoming game (a game that Paige missed while still sitting out with a broken hand), North Carolina ran off three solid wins against Northwestern and Kansas State in the CBE Classic before its best win of the year, beating Maryland 89-81 in Marcus Paige’s debut in front of a loud Smith Center crowd.

Worst of 2015 so far: Both of North Carolina’s losses (at Northern Iowa, at Texas) have come in games where the Tar Heels either led or were in control in the second half. Not every lead is blown, but many of last year’s losses came in games where North Carolina had the lead in the second half. It’s only two games, but both included that same trend of giving away the lead that we saw a year ago.

Expectations moving forward: If you liked North Carolina as a Final Four favorite or ACC title hopeful because they brought back everyone from the Sweet 16, then you have to accept that maybe the disappointing trends have stuck around along with the talented upperclassmen. No matter what this is still a team that will contend in the ACC, but a dominant win against UCLA, especially with Kennedy Meeks out, and a hot start to conference play would go a long way in rebuilding the image of a Final Four contender.

UCLA BRUINS (8-3)

Players to know: Tony Parker (14.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG), Bryce Alford (16.9 PPG, 5.4 APG), Thomas Welsh (12.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 61.7% FG)

Preseason expectations: Heading into the year, a step back from back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances was expected in part because of losing Kevon Looney and Norman Powell. A return to the NCAA tournament was expected before the year, but not a guarantee for what we thought might be a middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 squad.

Best of 2015 so far: Since a tough 3-3 start (more on that below), UCLA has rolled off five straight wins, none more impressive than a 10-point victory against Kentucky. It was a year ago in the CBS Sports Classic when Kentucky jumped out to a 26-2 lead against the Bruins and cruised to a 39-point win. This year, UCLA was twice as efficient on offense (1.24 points per possession) with five players in double figures, led by a 21-point performance from 7-foot big man Thomas Welsh.

Worst of 2015 so far: UCLA has played a really tough schedule this year — with no team outside the KenPom top-150, as Sam Vecenie pointed out in his profile of the Bruins — but early season losses to Wake Forest and Monmouth, both by one possession, gave the team a 3-3 start that suggested a down year in Westwood.

Expectations moving forward: If UCLA can continue its improvements on the defensive end, you might be looking at a team that can challenge Arizona, Utah and Cal for Pac-12 supremacy. Thomas Welsh has been great, Tony Parker is rock solid and Bryce Alford is playing some of the best basketball of his UCLA career. Put it all together with less wasted possessions and you’ve got an NCAA tournament team, and possibly one that can make it to the second weekend for the third straight year.

KENTUCKY WILDCATS (9-1)

Players to know: Jamal Murray (15.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG), Tyler Ulis (12.1 PPG, 5.4 APG), Skal Labissiere (10.6 PPG, 2.1 BPG, 58.2% FG)

Preseason expectations: At this point, any John Calipari-coached Kentucky team has to be considered a threat to make a run at the title. It may not always go as planned during the year, but four Final Fours in five years with class after class of blue chips (and maybe even Cal’s best class coming next season) makes it really tough to bet against the Wildcats being in the mix in March.

Best of 2015 so far: Skal Labissiere had big, Karl-Anthony Tonws and Trey Lyles-sized shoes to fill coming in as the next future pro big man to suit up in Lexington. There were a few games early where Labissiere was been really active and looked great, but he has taken on a bench role recently and has yet to put it all together. Fellow freshman Jamal Murray, on the other hand, has been one of the best players in the SEC through 10 games. So in a way the best of 2015 for Kentucky has been the emergence of Murray as the best freshman of the class.

Worst of 2015 so far: Kentucky’s loss to UCLA was nothing to be too alarmed about considering the Bruins recent surge, so the worst of 2015 so far might be the only real weak spot in the Wildcats’ statistical profile: three-point shooting. Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe and Tyler Ulis are the players taking the most shots, but no one is particularly consistent and the team averages 27.6 percent from behind the arc (No. 330 nationally).

Expectations moving forward: Labissiere and Murray provided lots of preseason excitement, but the season has reminded us how good Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and fellow freshman Isaiah Briscoe are, and how great this team can be if Labissiere settles in and turns flashes of potential into regular production.

OHIO STATE (5-5)

Players to know: Marc Loving (15.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG), Keita Bates-Diop (11.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG), Jae’Sean Tate (12.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG)

Preseason expectations: Losing D’Angelo Russell was unexpected, at least it was not expected when last season began. Russell’s time with the Buckeyes was a brilliant flash in the Thad Matta era and not having him on the team in 2015-16 had many, including us here at CBS Sports, expecting Ohio State to be a team that finishes near the middle of the Big Ten standings.

Best of 2015 so far: With no real quality wins that would help Ohio State’s NCAA tournament case, the best of 2015 has to be the play of Marc Loving. The 6-7 junior has to do a little bit of everything, averaging 35 minutes per game, taking 25.9 percent of the team’s shots and leading the team in three-pointers made (18).

Worst of 2015 so far: Four straight non-conference losses, three of them coming at home, reset the expectations for 2015-16 and a 20-point at UConn only reaffirmed that the bar should be dropped.

Expectations moving forward: At the moment, Ohio State has lost against every top-150 opponent it has faced. Unless Ohio State can become a really, really good defensive team I don’t see the Buckeyes getting enough wins in conference play to make the tournament. That’s a weird place for Ohio State to be, considering Thad Matta has led the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tournament nine times in the last decade, but in an apparent down year for the program really good coaching might be the team’s best chance at becoming a contender.

CBS Sports Classic (USATSI)
Earlier this month UCLA avenged last year’s loss to Kentucky in the 2014 CBS Sports Classic. (USATSI)

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