Kentucky Wildcats vs. Florida Gators Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Kentucky Wildcats (16-0 SU, 7-7 ATS) vs. Florida Gators (11-4 SU, 5-5 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Tuesday, January 12, 2009, Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Kentucky -2.5/Florida +2.5
Over/Under: 142

After Thanksgiving weekend, the Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators were both undefeated. Kentucky was ranked No. 5 and Florida was No. 13. Kentucky hadn’t yet played any tough competition but the Wildcats struggled with the likes of Morehead State, Miami of Ohio, Sam Houston State and Stanford. They were extremely lucky to even win the games against Stanford and Miami of Ohio. Florida, on the other hand, had gotten double-digit wins over Florida State and Rutgers and a neutral court win over No. 2 Michigan State.

But things have changed since then – negatively for Florida and positively for Kentucky. The Gators have lost four of their last seven games. They lost to South Alabama at home, Richmond and Syracuse on a neutral court, and on the road at Vanderbilt. They could have easily had another loss if it weren’t for a 70-foot buzzer-beater in overtime by Chandler Parsons to defeat North Carolina State. Kentucky remains undefeated at 16-0 and is ranked No. 2 in the country. The Wildcats have earned wins over North Carolina, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisville and Georgia.

Kentucky is in great shape if it continues playing the way it has over the past few weeks. The SEC isn’t extremely tough this season, although it is still better than it was last season, so there aren’t a ton of tough matchups for the Wildcats. Finishing the regular season undefeated is highly unlikely but certainly realistic. This game at Florida is one of their tougher tests remaining on their schedule.

Florida is all of a sudden not even looking like an NCAA tournament team after having one of the best resumes early in the season. The Gators could really use this win, especially being a home conference game and having started 0-1 in the SEC after losing at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

In Florida’s 95-87 loss at Vanderbilt, the Gators shot 52 percent from the field and made 13 of their 27 3-point attempts. But they couldn’t play a lick of defense, allowing Vandy to shoot 54 percent from the field. Florida only forced Vandy to turn the ball over seven times in the game. They also lost the inside battle, as the Commodores grabbed four more rebounds and shot 12 more free throws than the Gators. Florida got excellent offensive production out of its guards, as Kenny Boynton scored 28 points on 10-for-21 shooting from the field and 6-for-14 from 3-point range, and Erving Walker scored 22 points on 5-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc and 5-for-10 overall. But Florida’s starting frontcourt of Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin and Dan Werner combined for only seven rebounds. That is awful and they must do an infinitely better job against Kentucky’s big men DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson.

Kentucky is coming off a 76-68 win at home over Georgia in its SEC opener. John Wall had a modest game with 17 points and five assists, as did Patterson with 17 points and six rebounds. Cousins added 16 points and seven rebounds. The Wildcats didn’t do anything incredible offensively but they forced 26 turnovers while committing 14. It’s been their defense that has stood out all season long.

Kentucky is shooting 50.2 percent from the field this season while holding opponents to 37.8 percent. The ‘Cats are shooting 40.6 percent from 3-point range, which is terrific, but are allowing opponents to make 36.1 percent of their 3-pointers, so if the Gators can hit their outside shots they could pull off the upset. The ‘Cats are out-rebounding opponents by 11.3 boards per game, so Tyus, Macklin and Werner will really have to pull a 180 from last game to compete on the glass. Other than last game, Florida has actually been a strong defensive team and a not-so-great offensive team. The Gators are holding opponents to 39.6 percent shooting overall and 27.7 percent from beyond the arc. But they are only making 29.3 of their 3-point attempts. The Gators are forcing 16.4 turnovers per game, so limiting turnovers could be the deciding factor in this game.

Kentucky is 5-1 ATS in its last six games following an ATS loss and 4-1 ATS in its last five road games. The Gators are 2-5 ATS in their last seven home games and 1-4 ATS in their last five games overall. The home team is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings between these teams, but the favorite is 4-1 ATS in the last five. Kentucky is 1-4 ATS in its last five games against Florida and 0-4 ATS in its last four games at Florida.

Ryno’s Pick: Kentucky is certainly a beatable team, despite the loaded talent on its roster. Florida is better than how they have been playing lately, as displayed earlier in the season in the wins over Florida State and Michigan State. Florida really needs this victory badly and it’s at home. Kentucky has struggled over the last few years at Florida and it will continue on Tuesday when the ‘Cats get their first loss of the season. Take Florida +2.5.