There is only one game on the schedule, but if you are anywhere near the Commonwealth state, there would only be one game of any importance anytime these two schools get together anyway. It is hard to overstate just how much passion and emotion is stirred up when Louisville and Kentucky take the court and the hot start coupled with the surprising losses by Kentucky have this game positioned to be one of the most interesting in years.
Before we get to the official pick and matchup breakdown, a quick tip of the cap to the Oklahoma Sooners for heading over to Hawai’i and handling a decent tournament field to win the Diamondhead Classic. That ensures the Sooners will be unbeaten heading into the New Year – and things get REAL fun real fast as they open conference play by hosting Iowa State and then heading to Kansas in a 48-hour stretch…
Ok, let’s get back to business, and more specifically, the business of stacking up winners. On to the Bluegrass Holy War.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Louisville Cardinals at Kentucky Wildcats -2.5
There is no doubt that Louisville has exceeded expectations thus far in 2015. It was supposed to be a significant rebuilding year, but the Cardinals instead are back in familiar territory, ranked in the Top 15 in the country and rolling with a 10-1 record heading into ACC play. However, it is a little concerning to me that their best game of the year was a loss. The four-point loss at East Lansing was impressive, but aside from that loss, their best performances are wins over North Florida, Western Kentucky, St. Louis, Eastern Michigan, Missouri-Kansas City… stop me when you are impressed. No? Me neither. This is a largely untested basketball team who is about to walk into the most hostile arena imaginable; a frenzied and frantic Rupp Arena to face an angry and embarrassed Wildcat team licking fresh wounds.
Kentucky has been underwhelming since their opening jaw-dropper against Duke. They are just 2-8 ATS since that night in New York and have losses to UCLA and a home loss to a VERY mediocre Ohio State team that lost by double-digits to UConn. Something isn’t quite right in Lexington, and a lot of the concern starts with freshman projected Lottery pick, Skal Labassiere. He turned in a zero point, zero rebound head-scratcher last week, but I expect a few days off and some Coach Cal love will nurture the young star back to respectability, perhaps even a break-out game.
Kentucky is good when they move the ball and defend. I am not 100% on the first, but I do feel confident in the latter today. They will get out and defend with intensity in this passionate rivalry game.
In the end, I’ll take Big Blue. Louisville’s guards have been good, but Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray could be the best backcourt in the country. I’ll also take UK’s frontcourt and their mobility advantage. Plus, it’s just hard to see them losing another game, especially one this important, in Rupp Arena.
It’s going to be an insane environment, and that certainly favors the home team. Add in the fact that, despite a few rocky showings, Kentucky is the far more talented team, and I think this adds up to a Kentucky cover with some room to spare.