Louisville Cardinals vs. Kentucky Wildcats Pick 12/28/19
Louisville Cardinals (11-1 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (8-3 SU, 4-7 ATS)
When: Saturday, December 28, 3:45 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Point Spread: UL -1/UK +1 (MyBookie)
Total: O/U 131.5
Last Time Out:
Louisville beat Miami-Ohio 70-46; Kentucky lost 71-65 to Ohio State.
Scouting the Cardinals:
Over the past ten years, there’s been one constant when it comes to this series: a frustrating ending for the men in red. Louisville has had good teams, great teams, and even a national champion (albeit one that had its title vacated), but all of them have found success difficult to come by against the Wildcats. The 2012 and 2016 games are Louisville’s only victories in the series since 2009. If you follow the NCAA’s stance and don’t count the 2012 title-winning team that had its win vacated, Kentucky has a 10-1 mark against the Cardinals in official games.
To break that streak, Jordan Nwora has to find a Robin to his Batman. Nwora managed to lead the Cardinals in scoring as he’s done every night this season, but eventually, the Cardinals are going to come across an opponent that they can’t overpower with their athleticism. When that happens, they need to find a second scorer who can take the pressure off of Nwora. If defenses are able to focus all of their attention on the senior, it’s going to be a major challenge for him to keep getting the kinds of looks that allow him to take over a basketball game.
Scouting the Wildcats:
Boy, could the Wildcats use someone like P.J. Washington down low. Kentucky made its living by cleaning up on the glass after missing a chance, as Washington helped make the squad into an Elite Eight team. This team doesn’t have that kind of presence inside, and it’s really been evident with how much more likely Kentucky is to find itself limited to one contested shot down the floor.
Ashton Hagans has developed well as a point guard, but Tyrese Maxey needs to focus on avoiding the early fouls and either keeping the ball himself or finding his teammates. Over his past two games, Maxey carried four personals in one and fouled out in the other, hardly the kind of performance associated with championship basketball.
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Youth meets experience. This is the point of the year where Kentucky becomes very dangerous because the Wildcats start to get the pieces in place. Kentucky is traditionally one of the country’s youngest teams because of John Calipari’s recruiting strategy, and having another week or two for him to get in the gym and go over the X’s and Y’s can make a world of difference with the Wildcats’ collective basketball IQ. Louisville has the edge in terms of experience, but the experience of playing tough teams close has done a number for Kentucky’s mentality. If the Cats can put it to good use, they’re in great shape for a cover.
Louisville will Cover if:
The Cardinals can stay in the moment and avoid getting overwhelmed. Louisville is in a rare position of having shown a lot more than Kentucky has to this point of the year. The Wildcats are still waiting to discover their identity and have had to completely change who they were from a season ago, while the Cardinals have been able to build off what they started from last year. Louisville should be the team that comes out on top, but the mental block of facing Kentucky could prove to be a significant hurdle.
Kentucky will Cover if:
The Wildcats can force someone other than Nwora to get the job done against them. One of the reasons that Kentucky has had success against Louisville is that Calipari has been able to adjust on the fly to the Wildcats’ next opponent. That’s what he has to do here. And, he has to do it against an opponent that has lingered way too close to leaving its biggest weakness exposed.
Steven Enoch, Ryan McMahon, and Dwayne Sutton are talented enough to take over games, but with Nwora around, the Louisville players have never had to worry about stepping up in a pressure situation. Calipari could change that.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
This is not an easy bet to make. Louisville is the more talented team this season and has the best player on the floor. But I think Calipari is going to throw something at Nwora that forces Louisville to find someone else to be the hero for this one game.
So that means the question is, can Louisville respond to Kentucky’s challenge and pull off a win in Lexington, something they haven’t done since 2009? I believe the answer is yes. I’m going to guess that someone other than Nwora gets the job done, and Louisville gets its signature win.
This game is close enough that I would rather not play it, but I’m paid to make a prediction, so give me the Cardinals. A teaser may be the best bet here and you can get an extra handful of points and pair it with another college hoops game or one of the bowl games at SportBet where you get the best bang for your buck.