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Author: Mike Randle
Kansas vs. Kentucky Odds
|Kansas Odds||-3.5 [BET NOW]|
|Kentucky Odds||+3.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||-158 / +134 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||145.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. ET|
It’s an early-season clash between two blue bloods: No. 7 Kansas and No. 20 Kentucky. These two historic programs will meet at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, Indiana, as the second game in a four-team field.
Kentucky brings its talented but inexperienced youth against a veteran Kansas team lacking a true alpha-star. Which one of these historic programs will prevail in Tuesday night’s primetime battle?
Kansas (1-1) recovered from a rough 102-90 loss to No. 1 Gonzaga to earn a comfortable 94-72 win over St. Joseph’s. Sophomore Christian Braun led the Jayhawks with 30 points (5-of-8 from 3), eight rebounds, three assists, and four steals. Junior Ochai Agbaji added 18 points (2-of-5 from 3), with senior Marcus Garrett providing his usual full stat line (five rebounds, three assists, three steals).
Four-star recruit Jalen Wilson has impressed in both games, averaging 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in just 23 minutes per game. The Jayhawks will need better production from five-star prospect Bryce Thompson, who disappointed after receiving the start against St. Joseph’s (seven points, 3-of-7 FG, four turnovers).
The Jayhawks’ calling card has been tough man-to-man defense, as illustrated by their statistics from the 2019-20 season. Kansas owned the second-best ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency and third-best 2-point defense, per KenPom.
Its numbers this year have been heavily skewed by the Gonzaga blowout, which was a defensive anomaly under Bill Self. The Bulldogs shot 77% (34-of-44) from inside the arc, a record against a Self-coached Jayhawks team.
Kansas will need a strong game from 6-foot-10, 265-pound junior David McCormack, who will need to keep the strong Kentucky front line off the boards. Fortunately, players such as Braun (5.5 rpg), Garrett (4.5 rpg), and the freshman Wilson (6.5) should hold a distinct advantage over their Kentucky positional counterparts.
After an impressive 81-45 opening home win over Morehead State, the Wildcats took a step back in a 76-64 home loss to Richmond.
The Spiders are a veteran team and used strong half-court defense to force the inexperienced Wildcats into 21 turnovers. Kentucky features seven freshmen and a total of 10 new players.
On offense, Kentucky struggled mightily from beyond the arc, shooting 0-of-10 from 3-point range and 36.1% (22-of-61) from inside the arc. Head coach John Calipari’s team has also struggled from the free-throw line, shooting just 61.7% (29-of-47).
Three of Kentucky’s top four scorers are freshmen: Brandon Boston Jr. (17.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Terrence Clarke (8.5 ppg), and Isaiah Jackson (7.5 ppg, 9.0 rebounds per game). All three are uber-athletic players who illustrated their inexperience with seven combined turnovers per game. None of the three have made a 3-pointer this season.
Senior transfer Olivier Sarr brings a 7-foot, 237-pound frame from Wake Forest and posted a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) against Richmond.
Calipari’s neophyte teams usually struggle in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Over the past two years, the Wildcats have posted some head-scratching early-season results:
- 118-84 blowout loss to Duke (Champions Classic)
- 71-59 home win over Southern Illinois (up by four with under 10 minutes left)
- 67-64 home loss to Evansville
- 69-66 neutral-court loss to Utah
While I’m certain the Wildcats will bring a lot of energy in this nationally-televised matchup, they just aren’t ready to beat a veteran Kansas team that has already battle No. 1 Gonzaga.
Betting Analysis & Pick
Calipari teams always get better as the year progresses, but this is a brutal early-season matchup. After all, Kansas has already notched 90 points against the No. 1 team in the country.
I expect Garrett and Agbaji to frustrate the Kentucky freshmen scorers while attacking the basket and exploiting their defensive inexperience. McCormack should limit Sarr on the interior as well.
Self also has the coaching advantage, with a 58% winning percentage ATS in November non-conference games. Given that it’s only Dec. 1, and the start of the season was delayed by two weeks, this is a perfect fit for our BetLabs trend.
I expect a comfortable Kansas win by five points or more. Without 3-point efficiency, Kentucky isn’t currently constructed to overcome a big deficit. It will need to play with the lead or close to keep this game within striking distance.
This will be another valiant effort by the young Wildcats that falls short against an early-season veteran team.
Pick: Kansas -3.5 (up to -4.5).
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Author: Mike Randle