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The Kentucky Wildcats host their home opener Friday as they take on the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. The Wildcats made quite a statement Tuesday night with a 69-62 win over No. 1 Michigan State. Kentucky received 26 from freshman guard Tyrese Maxey, who came off the bench.Eastern Kentucky produced a much more modest 79-68 victory over Chattanooga. The Colonels like to play a fast pace and are not afraid to press every possession.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari's latest haul of talent has the Wildcats looking like a national title favorite. The latest freshman classed ranked No. 2 in the country coming out of high school. The Wildcats also return four key players and Bucknell grad transfer forward Nate Sestina. Kentucky should nonetheless be challenged by an Eastern Kentucky team that likes to put up plenty of points. Sophomore guard Houston King led the team with 19 points in its opening night win.
EKU hopes to pull off stunnerSecond-year Eastern Kentucky head coach A.W. Hamilton is familiar with the Kentucky basketball program having grown up in nearby Georgetown. He'll look to guide his program to a stunning upset of the Wildcats Friday night behind a fast-paced attack. EKU ranked second in the country last year with 78.8 possessions per game. The Colonels show no signs of slowing down, either.
In its opening win against Chattanooga, EKU began the game on a 15-0 run and never looked back. The Colonels shot 51.9% from the field but also committed 24 turnovers. The turnover margin will be a key factor in whether EKU covers Friday. The Colonels like to play an aggressive press defense but it often leads them exposed to giving up fast break points.
Hamilton plays a relatively young roster with three starting sophomores. Senior forward Ty Taylor II provides some much-needed experience but isn't much of a scorer. Junior forward Darius Hicks and sophomore guard Jomaru Brown scored 18 and 14 points respectively Tuesday night.
Wildcats look loaded as everPerhaps the biggest controversy following Kentucky's season-opening win over No. 1 Michigan State is why its top scorer came off the bench. Tyrese Maxey, the former five-star recruit, dropped 26 points on 12 field goal attempts in a sixth-man role. There's no question that the 6'3 guard is Kentucky's top scoring threat and on his way to becoming one of the best players in the country. Calipari's decision to play him off the bench may defy logic to some, but the on-court production is what counts.
Kentucky has a bunch of talented starters to choose from, too. Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley, a former McDonald's All-American, is poised to have a big season after being bogged down in the rotation last year. He and fellow sophomore guard Ashton Hagans joined Maxey as the only Wildcats in double digits.
Post play could be the biggest concern for Kentucky this year. The Wildcats don't have a true center but rely on a handful of big wings. Kentucky was out-rebounded 34-30 by Michigan State. Nate Sestina, a transfer from Bucknell, led the team with six boards. At 6'9, he's one of Kentucky's tallest players along with 6'10 sophomore forward EJ Montgomery.
- Wildcats are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games following an ATS win.
- Wildcats are 2-6 ATS in their last eight vs. Ohio Valley.
The supporting trends for this game, found on Covers.com, are:
- Colonels are 3-0-1 ATS in their last four non-conference games.
- Colonels are 10-4-2 ATS in their last 16 road games vs. a team with a home winning % of greater than .600.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
As good as the Kentucky Wildcats are, Eastern Kentucky is the kind of team that could cause trouble for John Calipari's group. The Colonels will want to push the ball for 40 minutes with unrelenting press defense. The strategy often works in the Ohio Valley, but the much bigger and stronger Wildcats should be able to play up to speed just fine. The Colonels won't go down easy and should cover spread just barely.
Prediction: Eastern Kentucky Colonels +29.5
Full-Game Total Pick
This o/u seems a little low to me given that Eastern Kentucky's high paced style of play and Kentucky's offensive capabilities. In Kentucky's win over Michigan State, we really didn't see what the Wildcats offense could do against weaker competition (the Spartans are superior defensively to most teams in college basketball). I expect the Wildcats to score close to 100 points Friday in what will almost certainly be a track race. The over feels like a very safe call here.
Prediction: Over 151