There’s something about games like the one college basketball bluebloods North Carolina and Kentucky will play on Saturday that gets everyone involved — from the fans and media to the coaches and their players — a little more juiced up than usual. “This game has been marked, I’m pretty sure, for both teams for awhile,” Tar Heels forward Justin Jackson said. “Being on that type of stage, being in Vegas, being two really good teams, I think it will definitely be a game to get up for.” The Tar Heels and Wildcats will be playing for 10th time in the past 12 years when they meet at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas as part of the CBS Sports Classic. They’re scheduled to face one another again in 2018 in the same series of neutral site doubleheaders that was recently renewed by the network. But as popular and marketable as the rivalry has become, there’s a real possibility that the next game between two of the three winningest programs in college hoop history might be the last one for the foreseeable future. The reason is the influence of a different television network. While it was CBS that brought UNC and Kentucky together through its annual “Classic” — along with UCLA and Ohio State — it’s ESPN’s influence in expanding the ACC’s conference schedule to 20 games once the league’s linear network kicks off in 2019 that threatens drive the Tar Heels and Wildcats apart. “I love playing in these events. It just ticks me off that someone goes from 16 to 18 then 18 to 20 in conference games and still expects you to do those types of things,” UNC coach Roy Williams said earlier this week. “There will be a time and place for me to make my feelings known about that, but I did ask ‘would you rather have North Carolina and Kentucky or North Carolina and somebody at the bottom of the league who is really struggling? “We have agreed to go ahead and do (the CBS Sports Classic) three more years. I like the idea, I think it’s good. When you go from 16 to 18 then 18 to 20 I don’t like it that much more. You have to decide how much of a balance you want to have.” According to Williams, the biggest stumbling block to his team continuing to schedule teams like Kentucky in neutral site games once the ACC goes to 20 games is — to nobody’s surprise — money. “Our business office, what do they want me to do? Make money,” Williams said. “So we need to play home games. “Last year or the year before we played 16 home games. Two or three teams in the league played 20 or 21. I know an AD that went into a friend of mine and said ‘we need you to play 20-21 home games, because we need the money.” Saturday’s game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. The good news for the Tar Heels is that word out of Las Vegas is that star point guard Joel Berry, who leads the team in assists and ranks second in scoring at 14.8 points per game, has been given the go-ahead to play. Berry has missed the past two games with a sprained left ankle.
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