Florida Gators (17-9) at #10 Kentucky Wildcats (21-5)
NCAA Basketball: Saturday, February 22nd, 2020 at 6:00 pm ET (Rupp Arena)
Line and Odds: Kentucky Wildcats -4.5 Over/Under: 136
Free ESPN NCAA Basketball Picks Kentucky Wildcats vs. Florida Gators
This has been a pretty choppy season for the Florida Gators. Many college basketball observers went into the season expecting Florida to be a legitimate national title contender. In the preseason Associated Press Top 25 Poll, the Gators were ranked the #6 team in the country. Florida returned 3 talented sophomores in Keyontae Johnson, Andrew Nembhard, and Noah Locke, who saw significant action as freshmen last season. Also, they added Kerry Blackshear, Jr., a Virginia Tech senior transfer who helped lead the Hokies to the Sweet 16 last season. Unfortunately for Gator Nation, Florida’s basketball team has been inconsistent.
After early season losses to Florida State and Connecticut, the Gators found themselves outside of the top 25. In fact, Florida hasn’t made the Top 25 since the UConn loss. Florida also suffered non-conference losses to Butler and Utah State which prompted some calls among the Gator faithful to fire head coach Mike White. Florida opened up the conference season 4-1, but suffered a 91-75 loss to a mediocre Missouri team in that 5-game stretch. The Gators then lost 3 games in a row to LSU, Baylor, and Mississippi State. Interestingly enough, the betting market never really lost confidence in the Gators. Florida was actually a small favorite when the #1 ranked Baylor Bears went to Gainesville to play them.
Since the calendar turned to February, Florida has won 5 of their 6 games. It’s possible that this hot run coincided with an easing of their schedule’s strength. Their 5 wins have been against Vanderbilt (2x), Georgia, Texas A&M, and Arkansas. Despite the up-and-down nature of their season, the Gators are projected to be an NCAA tournament team. They are 17-9 overall and 9-4 in conference. Florida is tied for 2nd with Auburn and LSU in the SEC. A win over Kentucky would put them just 1 game back of the SEC lead, and boost them in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee.
Just like Florida, the Kentucky Wildcats have had a little trouble living up to the expectations that the preseason pollsters set for them. John Calipari’s Wildcats were ranked the #2 team in the country in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 College Basketball Poll. They won their opening night match-up with the Michigan State Spartans 69-62 in the Champions Classic. At that point, Kentucky ascended to #1 in the country. 2 games later, Kentucky lost to Evansville at home 67-64 in the biggest upset of the year. A month later, Kentucky suffered back-to-back losses to Utah (69-66) and Ohio State (71-65) in Las Vegas.
Following these defeats, Kentucky fell to #19 in the AP poll. A home overtime win over the Louisville Cardinals helped the Wildcats get back to its usual form. Since the loss to Ohio State in late December, Kentucky has gone 13-2. Among those 13 wins were victories over Louisville (mentioned above), at Texas Tech, Mississippi State and at LSU. They have climbed there way up to the #10 spot in the top 25 rankings. Kentucky is 21-5 overall with an 11-2 record in SEC play. They are currently leading the SEC standings, 2 games ahead of the Auburn Tigers, the LSU Tigers, and the Florida Gators.
This hasn’t been the typical team under John Calipari. There is still some talent on the team, as they have 7 players who were in the top 25 of their respective recruiting classes. However, 5 of Kentucky’s 6 leading scoring contributors are sophomores, juniors, or seniors. There is more experience than the freshman-dominated teams of the recent past. Sophomore Immanuel Quickley averages 15.2 points per game, which leads the team and ranks him 10th in the SEC in scoring. Junior Nick Richards averages 14.5 points per game. He ranks 3rd in the SEC in rebounding, grabbing 8.1 boards per game. Tyrese Maxey, the leading freshman on the team, puts up 13.9 points per game. Sophomore Ashton Hagans averages 12.0 points and 6.6 assists per game. Hagans leads the SEC in assists.
Cover The Spread 365 Betting Trends
The total has gone OVER in 14 of Florida’s last 20 games.
Florida is 3-8 SU in their last 11 games against Kentucky.
The total has gone UNDER in 8 of Florida’s last 8 games when playing on the road against Kentucky.
Kentucky is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games.
The total has gone OVER in 11 of Kentucky’s last 16 games.
Kentucky is 10-0 SU in their last 10 games at home.
ESPN NCAA Basketball Scores Florida Gators vs. Kentucky Wildcats
I’m taking the Kentucky Wildcats -4.5 in this match-up. When you consider that home-court advantage is worth roughly 3 points from a betting perspective, the market is essentially telling me that the Wildcats are about 1.5 points better than the Gators on a neutral court. I think the gap between these two teams is wider than that. Their offenses are similar in caliber, but I believe that the Wildcats have the edge on the defensive end. One underappreciated aspect of John Calipari’s coaching is his ability to get his players to defend. I’m not convinced that Florida’s recent “turnaround” is real. I believe it has a lot to do with the weaker opponents they’ve faced in the last couple of weeks. Kentucky is the best team in the SEC and they’ve gone 14-1 SU at home this season. If Florida is able to take down the ‘Cats in Rupp Arena, I’ll buy-in to them. Until then, give me Kentucky and I’ll lay the points.