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SEC versus Missouri Valley here as the Kentucky Wildcats host the Evansville Purple Aces in an early-season matchup. Evansville is coming off a win over Ball State in their opener, while Kentucky has wins over Michigan State and Eastern Kentucky. Oddsmakers unsurprisingly have Kentucky as a large favorite for this one, which will be televised on the SEC network.
Evansville Coming Off RoughEvansville is coming off a rough year, and it's been a few seasons since they've been relevant. They went just 11-21 last year, including 5-13 in conference play. Walter McCarty is entering his second year as head coach, and hopefully, things go better for him. Making matters difficult, they lost a couple of key pieces from last year's team. Marty Hill, their best 3-point shooter who shot 41.7% from deep last year, graduated. Without him in the lineup, they aren't going to be nearly as accurate from three. Evansville hasn't exactly looked great against power conference competition in the past, and they lost by 39 points to Illinois in their one such game last season.
They picked up a win over Ball State in their opener, but it wasn't that impressive. They got up big early on but nearly blew the game and allowed Ball State to win, giving up 57 points in the second half. They took their foot off the gas, and they obviously won't get away with the same thing here. They also turned the ball over 17 times, and if they're that sloppy with the ball against a team as good as Kentucky, they're going to get absolutely blown out. They did go nine of 19 from 3, but they almost wasted a hot shooting game. This is also Evansville's first road game of the season, and they could get rattled by the crowd noise.
Kentucky Back On Top?Kentucky has obviously had a lot of success under head coach John Calipari. But while they certainly have been relevant and in the mix the past few years, they haven't been a truly elite team. Just two years ago, they were 'only' a five-seed in the NCAA tournament. That all looks like it's going to change this season, and they are back to being a true blue blood.
They started the year off ranked number two in the AP poll, and then they beat the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans in their opener. They followed that up with a 32-point win over Eastern Kentucky in their second game, showing they clearly don't have much trouble blowing out lesser opponents. Freshman Tyrese Maxey was highly recruited coming out of high school, but nobody expected him to be quite this good right away. In his first-ever college game against Michigan State, he scored 26 points, and made numerous huge clutch shots down the stretch. In addition to returning some key guys, they also added some intriguing new pieces.
Most notably they added Bucknell grad transferred Nate Sestina, a 6'9 forward who averaged 15.8 points per game last year. He's going to be a big part of what Kentucky does down low, and he can also stretch the floor and shoot the three. Kentucky hasn't been a great 3-point shooting team the past few years, and how they shoot from deep will likely go a long way in determining what kind of season they have. Against lesser teams, it won't really matter though, as they can just get out and run. During their game against Eastern Kentucky they forced a whopping 21 turnovers, while limiting them to 25 percent shooting from the floor.
Trends, courtesy of Covers.com: Wildcats are:
- 5-1 ATS in their last 6 home games
- 11-1 ATS in their last 12 non-conference games
- 13-3-1 ATS in their last 17 games after allowing less than 50 points in their previous game
Purple Aces are:
- 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games following a straight up win
- 1-6 ATS in their last 7 games following an ATS win
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
This spread is massive, but you still have to lay it with Kentucky here. Evansville was a terrible team last year, and I don't see any reason to believe that they've gotten much better. Kentucky has started off the year on fire, beating top-ranked Michigan State in their opener and then dismantling Eastern Kentucky. They forced Eastern Kentucky to commit 21 turnovers, and I think we could see something similar from Evansville here. Kentucky has a serious home-court advantage from a raucous crowd, and they are 5-1 against the spread in their last six home games.
Prediction: Kentucky -25
Full-Game Total Pick
The under also makes a lot of sense in this spot. In their most recent game the Wildcats held Eastern Kentucky to just 49 points, and I think Evansville could score even fewer here. Kentucky limited Eastern Kentucky to just 25% shooting from the floor, and I think we will see a similarly smothering defensive performance here. Kentucky is only shooting 25% from three as a team this season, so I don't think they're going to score enough to send this one over by themselves. Kentucky doesn't like to play at a fast pace, and the under is 19-7 in their last 26 contests.