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Kentucky Wildcats (8-0 SU, 2-4 ATS) vs. Connecticut Huskies (6-1 SU, 1-5 ATS), 9:30 p.m. EST, Wednesday, December 9, 2009, Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Kentucky +1/Connecticut -1
The SEC/Big East Invitational’s main event takes place at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night as the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Connecticut Huskies. This matchup features two of the best programs in college basketball and two of the best coaches in college basketball, as John Calipari’s Wildcats face Jim Calhoun’s Huskies.
This matchup also features some of the top players in college basketball. Kentucky is led by John Wall, one of the top point guards in the country and most definitely the best freshman in the country, Patrick Patterson, one of the top post players in the country, and DeMarcus Cousins, also one of the best freshmen in the country. UConn is led by Jerome Dyson, an electric, athletic scoring wing, Stanley Robinson, a long, athletic forward, and Kemba Walker, a super-quick sophomore scoring guard from New York who always loves to play near his family and friends at Madison Square Garden.
Kentucky came into the season with extremely high expectations after missing the NCAA tournament last season. Calipari took over as the new coach for the Wildcats and brought in an incredible recruiting class that included Wall, Cousins, Darnell Dodson, Jon Hood, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe. With a young team that is still trying to perfect Calipari’s system, the Wildcats started off slow with some close calls against Miami of Ohio, Sam Houston State and Stanford. They hadn’t really faced any reputable competition until a 68-66 home win over North Carolina on Saturday that really legitimatized the top five ranking the ‘Cats received before the season. In the wins over Miami of Ohio, Stanford and North Carolina, it was Wall who bailed his team out in all three close wins. Against Stanford and North Carolina, he hit some late free throws, while it was a game-winning jumper with less than a second remaining against Miami of Ohio.
In the win over UNC, Wall had 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals, but also had seven turnovers. Patterson had 19 points and seven rebounds. Wall is averaging 18.1 points, 7.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game. Patterson is averaging 16.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Cousins is averaging 14.8 points and 8.1 rebounds, Bledsoe is stepping up as well with 10.5 points and 3.1 assists.
After losing so much talent from last season, it was unclear exactly how good UConn would be this season. But with the return of Robinson, Walker and Dyson along with the addition of a few solid freshmen, the Huskies are still a top 25 team capable of beating any team on any given night. They’ve had one real test so far this season, a 68-59 loss to Duke at Madison Square Garden. In fact, this will be their third game already this season at MSG. They defeated LSU there, 81-55. But the Huskies are coming off a too-close-for-comfort 79-73 win over Harvard on Sunday. Hopefully for Calhoun and the Huskies, that was just a look-ahead game as they prepared for their matchup with Kentucky.
UConn is a team that plays from the outside in. The Huskies will pass the ball around the perimeter and try to dribble down the lane and attack the basket with their quickness and athleticism. Once they get the ball to the rim, they hope that their size down low will be able to clean up on the boards. Walker a Dyson are the primary ball-handlers that can penetrate and get to the rim. Robinson, Gavin Edwards and Alex Oriakhi provide the size down low. The one problem the Huskies have is a lack of shooters. Walker, Dyson and Robinson are all decent shooters, but 3-pointers are not something this team excels at. In fact, they didn’t even make a 3-pointer in the loss to Duke. The real reason the Huskies lost that game was because they got dominated on the boards, something that won’t happen too often this season.
Ryno’s Pick: This game should be a delight. Two of the best coaches in college basketball will send out two exciting teams onto the floor at the world’s most famous arena. The win over UNC proves that Kentucky is an elite team and it gives the ‘Cats the confidence that they can beat anybody. UConn still hasn’t proven it can beat elite teams this season, but this is the opportunity to do so. The Huskies have an advantage in that they are plenty used to playing at MSG. But Kentucky has an edge at most positions. Wall and Walker are both exceptionally quick, but Wall’s size and athleticism will give him an advantage. UConn has size down low, but Kentucky’s size is better with Patterson and Cousins. If the Huskies are going to win this game, they need Dyson to dominate. But Dyson didn’t come up big in the loss to Duke. Wall, Patterson and Cousins are just too special to lose this primetime affair, especially since UConn doesn’t have the shooters to keep up with the ‘Cats. Take Kentucky +1.