It's been quite the ride this season for a few of college basketball's blue-blood programs. Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina have all struggled to find consistency, leaving us to wonder if they could pull it together in time to qualify for the big dance. While North Carolina continues to sabotage itself by losing five of its last six, Duke and Kentucky's recent play has put them on solid ground.
Kentucky's current projection as a No. 9 seed (per bracketmatrix) is a stark reminder that there is still work to be done before Wildcats fans can exhale. On Wednesday, they have another opportunity to prove they turned the corner as they travel to Gainesville to face the Florida Gators as 3.5-point road favorites.
That's been the needle everyone has threaded with the Wildcats this season. The second you count them out, they suck you right back in. They looked apathetic in a 75-68 loss in Georgia less than two weeks ago, but followed it up with a tough road win at Mississippi State, and an even bigger home victory over Tennessee.
This season has also been a turbulent ride for bettors (12-15 ATS), but the Wildcats' recent form has made them a solid play on the road (4-1 ATS L5). Is now the time to bank on Kentucky, finally showing the consistency we longed for all year?
Kentucky Wildcats (-3.5) at Florida Gators
You will certainly catch a barrage of eye-rolling emojis in the group chat if you suggest laying road chalk in a conference game, but stand your ground on this one and send some money bags back after Kentucky covers. The Wildcats struggle to defend athletic wings that can hit shots from the perimeter and force their bigs (mainly Oscar Tshiebwe) to leave the paint. That's not Florida, who ranks 288th in 3-point percentage (per KenPom), and is still trying to figure things out after losing 6-foot-11 center Colin Castleton to injury.
Florida will struggle to create open looks against Kentucky's suffocating defense, and without Colin Castleton's presence in the middle, the Gators will get wrecked on the glass. Kentucky's rebounding percentage is the best in the conference on both ends of the floor, while Florida ranks 12th and 14th, respectively. Kentucky looks its best when it can dictate the tempo defensively and use the rebounding edge to get easy buckets in transition and second-chance points in halfcourt. The game will be decided by Kentucky asserting its dominance down low.
John Calipari's offense has found its identity with Cason Wallace taking command as the primary ball-handler. Whether its pick and rolls with Tshiebwe or creating for his teammates by driving and kicking, the Wildcats will take advantage of an undermanned frontcourt. The Gators are coming off an 84-65 blowout loss to Arkansas, where they trailed by as much as 25 in their first full game without Castleton. Trusting Kentucky could be our famous last words, but I believe the play of Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston has helped them turn the corner just in time. Lay the 3.5 with the Wildcats.