Kentucky Wildcats vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Kentucky Wildcats (19-0 SU, 9-8 ATS) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-8 SU, 7-9 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Tuesday, January 26, 2009, The Colonial Center, Columbia, S.C. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Kentucky -7/South Carolina +7
Over/Under: 149

Last season, Kentucky didn’t even make the NCAA tournament. John Calipari took over as head coach and brought in some stellar recruits. Now, the Wildcats are all of a sudden No. 1 in the country and the only undefeated team remaining in college basketball. South Carolina has the honor of being the first team to face the Wildcats as the No. 1 team, as the Gamecocks host Kentucky on Tuesday night.

Kentucky has had some close calls lately but the ‘Cats have been able to win every game. In their last four games, they won by eight at home over Georgia, by 12 on the road at Florida, by five on the road at Auburn, and then absolutely destroyed Arkansas by 31.

In their 101-70 win over Arkansas at Rupp Arena on Saturday, the ‘Cats led by as much as 46 points in the second half. It was ugly to say the least. It was pretty much over by the first media timeout and the ‘Cats had a 57-27 lead at the half. Darius Miller led the team with 18 points, John Wall had 16 points and seven assists, DeMarcus Cousins had 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Eric Bledsoe had 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists. They really dominated down low where they out-rebounded Arkansas, 54-33. They shot 48 percent from the field and 10-for-33 from 3-point range. They held Arkansas to 31 percent shooting from the field and 3-for-16 on 3-point attempts.

South Carolina has not been very impressive this season. The Gamecocks’ best non-conference win came over Richmond and their only SEC wins thus far have come over Auburn and LSU, two of the worst teams in the conference. After starting 2-0 in the SEC with those two wins, they have lost three straight games to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Florida.

The Gamecocks nearly had a win on the road at Florida on Saturday, but Chandler Parson came to the rescue for the Gators, hitting a game-winning buzzer-beater 3-pointer for the second time this season, as Florida came away with a 58-56 victory. For South Carolina, it was all Devan Downey. The speedy senior guard scored 36 points on 12-for-25 shooting from the field and 4-for-11 from 3-point range. The Gamecocks only scored 56 points in the game, so Downey’s 36 really carried the team. The next highest scorer for them was Sam Muldrow’s six points. Downey is averaging 21.9 points per game for the season. South Carolina only shot 38 percent from the field and 6-for-22 on 3-pointers, but the Gamecocks only committed seven turnovers.

The one area where South Carolina has a real advantage in this game is turnovers. Kentucky is committing 15.1 turnovers per game and forcing 14.8 per game, while South Carolina is committing 13.3 turnovers per game and forcing 18.1 per game. If the Gamecocks can force the ‘Cats into a lot of turnovers, they can get some easy baskets in transition and really give themselves a chance to stay in the game. Kentucky’s biggest edge is in rebounding, where the ‘Cats average a +9.9 margin on the boards and the Gamecocks have a miserable -4.7 margin. If every South Carolina player doesn’t maek it a point to crash the boards, Patrick Patterson, Cousins and Daniel Orton will have a field day down low for Kentucky.

Kentucky is 21-8-1 ATS in its last 30 games as a road favorite. South Carolina is 2-5 ATS in its last seven games as an underdog and 2-5 ATS in its last seven games overall. The Gamecocks are 0-4 ATS in their last four games as a home underdog and 0-5 ATS in their last five games following an ATS win. The underdog is 8-2 ATS in the last 10 games between these teams. The road team is 7-2 ATS in the last nine between these teams. Kentucky is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games at South Carolina. The over is 7-1 in the last eight meetings between these teams at South Carolina and 16-3 in the last 19 meetings overall between Kentucky and South Carolina.

Ryno’s Pick: There is no doubt that Kentucky is a much better team than South Carolina and should be able to easily beat this team. But the Gamecocks will be very excited for this game, as will their fans, as they are hosting the No. 1 team in the country and have a chance to validate and rejuvenate their season with a win. Also, other than the last game against Arkansas, Kentucky hasn’t been blowing teams away this season. It’s tough to pick a side in this one, but the over seems like a safe bet. Kentucky will dominate down low, and South Carolina should be able to force a lot of turnovers for easy fast break baskets. A 16-3 mark for the over in the last 19 games between these teams is quite strong. Take the over of 149.