The final SEC/Big 12 challenge is loaded with key matchups, and the biggest might be the blockbuster game between Kentucky and Kansas. These two teams were heading in totally opposite directions just two weeks ago, but now the reigning champion Jayhawks are coming off three consecutive losses while Kentucky is coming off four consecutive wins. Can Kansas get back on track?
Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Saturday’s matchup in Lexington.
Kansas vs. Kentucky Odds
Kentucky enters as a slight 2-point favorite, sitting at -127 on the moneyline. The over/under is set at 142.5 points.
The recent slide by the Jayhawks predictably wasn’t enough to make Kentucky the favorite here. The Big 12 is a gauntlet, and a few losses aren’t reason to panic even if they highlighted some vulnerabilities for Kansas. Notably, though, Kentucky blew out Kansas on the road during the Jayhawks’ title season, so John Calipari may know how to beat this team.
Kansas vs. Kentucky Prediction & Pick
These two teams are more evenly matched than anyone would’ve expected three weeks ago, but has Kentucky recovered enough to play up to Kansas’ level?
Yes, Kansas has lost three straight, but all losses have come against legitimate Big 12 contenders. Kentucky got the win over Tennessee but has otherwise gotten back on track against Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Texas A&M. There’s a good chance we see the difference between the nation’s best conference and a lopsided SEC on Saturday.
Kentucky only has one loss at home – an embarrassing one at the hands of South Carolina – but talent, coaching, and a keen ability to close out games should lift Kansas to a win. Jayhawks +2 is the better bet.
Kansas vs. Kentucky Key Matchups
Kansas’ offense has struggled of late, scoring under 70 points in three of their last four games. The only exception was an 82-point performance against a poor Kansas State defense. It’s an offense that’s become too one-dimensional. The Jayhawks are overly reliant on Jalen Wilson, who admittedly is one of the best players in the nation but can’t do it all himself.
Kansas hasn’t gotten enough out of DaJuan Harris or K.J. Adams on the offensive end of late, and Kevin McCullar Jr. makes a bigger impact defensively than offensively. Even when standout freshman Gradey Dick scored 24 points against Baylor, it wasn’t enough. Kansas gets very little out of its bench, which contributes to the problem.
For their offensive ranks, the Jayhawks might be lucky to be 16-4. At the same time, they’re very well-coached and know how to close out games. The defense, led by McCullar in the backcourt and Wilson in the frontcourt, is well-balanced and has been reliable outside of some recent bumps. Will it be enough against Kentucky if the offense still isn’t clicking?
Kentucky’s offense is still a work in progress. The Wildcats are slightly below the Jayhawks in points per game and field goal percentage, and so much of their production comes from big man Oscar Tshiebwe. Tshiebwe hasn’t been as dominant as last season, which has contributed to Kentucky’s struggles, but finding other alternatives has been even more of an issue.
Cason Wallace is an x-factor. He struggled mightily when Kentucky was losing but has come on a bit stronger of late. Antonio Reeves has been huge off the bench, averaging 17 points per game during Kentucky’s winning streak. If Reeves and Wallace are supporting Tshiebwe well, Kentucky can win the offensive battle.
It’ll be up to McCullar and Dick to contain them. That’s a very solid defensive duo, though some guards (Santiago Vescovi, LJ Cryer) have done serious damage against this Kansas team. When this Jayhawks defense is at its best, it can certainly limit a Wildcats offense that has been forced to rely on a small handful of players.
Kentucky has the size advantage as one of the nation’s top rebounding teams with Tshiebwe and Jacob Toppin.
John Calipari’s team has played solid defense of late, especially against Tennessee, but it’s not an intimidating unit outside of Tshiebwe near the basket. If Dick and McCullar can hit shots and take pressure off Wilson, Kansas’ offense would be well positioned.