Kentucky vs Abilene Pick & Prediction
Abilene Christian Wildcats (27-6 SU, 16-13 ATS) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (27-6 SU, 17-16 ATS)
When: Thursday, March 20, 2019 – 7:10 PM ET
Where: Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Fla.
By: Dan Jamison, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ABC +22/UK -22
Total: O/U 132
Last Time Out: Abilene Christian beat New Orleans 77-60; Kentucky lost to Tennessee 82-78.
Scouting the Wildcats:
The Texas Wildcats do one thing well: they’re excellent shooters from beyond the 3-point arc. Abilene Christian relies on waiting for the right shot, taking it and hitting it when it comes available. Three of the Wildcats’ five starters shoot about 40 percent from behind the arc, which has Abilene Christian sitting 18th in the nation in 3-point percentage. Against Incarnate Word in the Southland Conference tournament, the Wildcats drilled 12 3-pointers, which has Kentucky coach John Calipari claiming he’s worried about the possibility of Abilene Christian getting hot from the outside and getting Kentucky in a scoring contest.
That might be a bit of hyperbole, but here’s a bit that isn’t hyperbole: Abilene Christian will have an edge in experience. The Texas Wildcats feature four seniors, including leading scorer Jaren Lewis.
Scouting the Wildcats:
Kentucky might be the nation’s most improved team, but the Wildcats aren’t coming into this game at full strength. P.J. Washington was injured in the SEC tournament against Kentucky, and Calipari has him listed as likely to play barring a setback, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how effective he’s actually going to be. Washington is the heart and soul of the Wildcats, and if he’s not up to full strength (he was in a walking boot on Wednesday), it’s going to be a major challenge for Kentucky to get the kind of result that most people expect from them.
Pressure. Abilene Christian is making its first appearance in school history, and that can sometimes lead to a team playing loose and free. Nobody expects these Wildcats to even come close against mighty Kentucky, so Abilene Christian genuinely has nothing to lose when it takes the court here.
Conversely, Kentucky has been in this situation many times before and is expected to put the game away very quickly. The longer Abilene Christian hangs around — which might be longer than people think — the more difficult it will be for Kentucky to get separation and score the comfortable victory that’s expected here. Sometimes, it’s possible to be a little too experienced, especially when you’re a heavy favorite like Kentucky is.
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Abilene Christian will Cover if:
The Wildcats can get their shooters some separation early and match Kentucky with its prowess on the arc. These seniors can shoot it from deep, and if the moment doesn’t overwhelm them, they’re good enough to hit their open looks. Abilene Christian has no chance to compete with Kentucky on the boards, so the Wildcats have to know that they’re likely to see only one shot at the goal when they put it up. That means they have to find the good look and not force things.
Kentucky will Cover if:
The Wildcats can put their size to good use. Nobody outrebounds Kentucky, and that should be even more true against a team that puts up a lot of 3-pointers like Abilene Christian. Big Blue has the ability to pound away inside at Abilene Christian, and if Kentucky can keep the purple Wildcats from getting more than one look at the bucket, it will be able to name the final score.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
When you take a team like Abilene Christian against a program with the pedigree of Kentucky, you want three things to be true. First, you want that team to be led by seniors. Check. Second, you want that team to be strong from behind the 3-point arc. Check. And third, you want that team to be battle-tested from facing several strong teams during the season.
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No check. Not even close to a check. Abilene Christian played the 10th-easiest schedule in the nation, feasting on a weak Southland Conference and beating several mediocre non-conference opponents. The one and only big-name opponent that the Texas Wildcats played was Texas Tech — and the Red Raiders won that game by 34 points. In other words, this is not a team that has played against top-tier talent. The kind of team stays competitive in a game like this knows how to play with good teams and won’t be intimidated by the task ahead of them.
That is not Abilene Christian by any stretch of the imagination. The purple Wildcats are going to find out the hard way that there’s no such thing as a P.J. Washington or a Reid Travis in the Southland Conference. Take Kentucky in this one.