Kentucky Wildcats vs. Missouri Tigers Pick 2/19/19
No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats (21-4, 15-10 ATS) vs. Missouri Tigers (12-12, 10-13-1 ATS)
When: Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 – 9:00 pm ET
Where: Mizzou Arena – Columbia, MO
Point Spread: UK -11/MIZ +11 (Bookmaker)
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and that’s two games in a row that I failed to cover by a half-point. I’m not going to call an emergency press conference after two close calls, but I just want to reassure you that I can and will do better. Kyle Cash should never have gone against Kyle Guy – that had disaster written all over it.
Luckily for us, tonight’s spread is a nice round number, but with any luck, it won’t end up mattering. Let’s take a look at the SEC match-up of the night as the red-hot Kentucky Wildcats march into Missouri to take on the struggling Tigers. In their last game out, Cal’s kids put the country on notice by taking down their SEC rival Tennessee Volunteers. Meanwhile, Missouri lost its 9th game in 12 tries at the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels. This lopsided match-up features an 11-point spread in favor of the visiting Wildcats with the total set to a mediocre 133.5 points. FYI – there’s only one Wildcat team, and they reside in Villanova. Change your mascot, UK.
Big Blue Nation
The rumors of Kentucky’s demise have died down considerably after they thumped the 1-seeded Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Duke Blue Devils already collected their soul on the opening night of the college basketball season, and there’s nothing Kentucky can do to possibly gain it back. Even as P.J. Washington proves the haters wrong and thrives in his second season, Tyler Herro does a Grayson Allen impersonation, and Keldon Johnson fills in the gaps, there’s nothing that they can do to change my first and lasting impression of them. If they continue along at this pace, however, I’ll at least be forced to default to my go-to Kentucky take: they’re a talented team with a talentless coach. End of discussion.
Luckily for Calipari, the SEC doesn’t demand an “A+” effort on every night of competition. Some nights, you roll into Missouri and beat the living crap out of them. Kentucky has dominated the SEC and their football schools for most of the decade, and they’ve won 11 of their 12 match-ups versus the Tigers. Cal’s returning sophomores don’t typically improve when they struggle in their freshman campaign, but P.J. Washington is the exception to the rule. He has posted 20 or more points in 7 of their last 8 games and is the main reason for their resurgence. Kentucky’s basketball hierarchy has been fleshed out over the last dozen or so games, and Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson seem to understand that the team is at its best when they are used as complementary options. I would rarely compliment the chemistry of a Calipari-led squad, but they might have stumbled upon a formula conducive to a championship run. If not for a horrific no-call in their LSU game, the Wildcats would be rolling through the SEC. If they can regain some of their momentum from before, the Missouri Tigers are going to offer very little resistance.
Cuonzo the Clown
The night is dark and full of terrors (GoT reference again), and so is the win-loss record of the Missouri Tigers. Coach Cuonzo Martin is a famed recruiter (read: bag dropper), but his efforts were wasted the moment that Jontay Porter suffered his season-ending injury. With another season lost to a Porter sibling injury, Missouri is now behind the eight-ball going forward, and a program that was looking to be on the rise might find itself back to square one. A 3-9 conference record doesn’t bode well for the long-term prospects of Cuonzo, and one long Sweet 16 with Tennessee back in 2014 may be the highlight of his coaching career.
Unless he is able to pull off an upset at home on Tuesday night. The Tigers haven’t had much luck against Kentucky in the past, and their inconsistent lineups and production have highlighted the lack of talent that they possess. With only three double-digit scorers on their roster, Mizzou has failed to establish a go-to scorer outside of senior guard Jordan Geist. On a team playing in the WAC, Geist might be a suitable first option, but the SEC demands more, and he just doesn’t quite have that next gear. Great college teams are built around NBA-caliber guard play and solid team defense, and Missouri only possesses half of that at best. Unless the Tigers can figure out a way to drag Kentucky down into the mud and shave 10 points off of their scoring average, I fear that this one may be over before it begins.
Every season, Coach Cal has the option to walk down one of two paths: either he possesses an immense load of talent, and the struggle is that everybody is gunning for them, or he decides that everybody has discounted his guys, and nobody believes in their status as a contender. But he’s managed to pull off a magic trick this time: he’s trying to tell us that his team is both. Kentucky simultaneously possesses the elite talent, and a “nobody believes in us” mentality, and it all loops back to the beatdown they suffered at the hands of Zion. But now is the crossroads of those two paths, and Cal is going to have to choose one. Do they stomp Missouri and become a true powerhouse – or do they slip up in this game and fall back on their underdog status? In my opinion, Cal prefers the former of these two options, and it’s compounded by the fact that the Tigers are a horrifically bad team in a historically terrible slump. Trust me – there will come a time and place to lay heaps of money against the coaching prowess of John Calipari. But today is not that day. Patience, grasshopper. It’ll be here before you know it.