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Maryland vs Kentucky – NCAA Basketball Free Pick

It’s one of my favorite days of the year.  As much as I love football, major league baseball and the NBA, nothing makes me happier than the start of college basketball season.  It’s a bit more a niche sport than the others, but it often leads for some amazing wagering opportunities.

Last season we closed with a fury and had a great NCAA Tournament, and we are back for the 2012-2013 season with tons of winners and tons of insight on some games that might fall a bit off the traditional radar.

However, we tonight we’ll start with one of the three marquee games of the night, defending NCAA Champs Kentucky taking on Mark Turgeon’s Maryland Terrapins.  Let’s dig inside some matchups and find a winning edge for tonight.

University of Kentucky Wildcats -10.5 vs. Maryland Terrapins (Total:134)

This line has tightened up furiously the last two days with the surprising announcement by the NCAA that transfer Dez Wells would be immediately instated and eligible.  The Terrapins and most college fans were not anticipating Wells winning his appeals, and the opening UK -16 line was a reflection of that fact.   With the addition of Wells, Maryland has a potentially dynamite backcourt.  Coupled with a healthy Pe’Shon Howard, and Maryland should be a Top-25 caliber team this year and should finish no worse than fourth in the ACC (and could very well push Duke, UNC and NC State a lot more than most pundits think).

For Kentucky, calling Coach Cal’s Cats the “defending” NCAA champs feels a little disingenuous.  Their top six players have all gone for the NBA, and with the exception of little-used Kyle Wiltjer, not once returner has any legit college basketball experience.  Not that it generally matters much these day in Lexington.  Cal’s Cats don’t rebuild, they reload.  This year is no exception.

Playing the Anthony Davis role this season will be 6’11’’ Nerlins Noel.  He has looked great in practice and preseason games, and his debut tonight is one of the most anticipated freshman debuts this season (especially if Shabazz Mohammad can’t get cleared at UCLA).  He will take the court alongside highly touted freshman Alex Poythress (who may need to carry a bigger portion of the scoring load than did Kidd-Gilcrest last season), Archie Goodwin and seven-footer Willie Cauley Stein.

The biggest difference between this year’s UK squad and the last is the lack of that ONE person with just a little experience and gravitas to provide some leadership.  Last year it was Terrance Jones (granted only a sophomore) and Darius Miller.  This year, they are hoping to get some of that leadership from grad student transfer Julius May.  The 6’2’’ Wright State transfer will couple with another transfer, Ryan Harrow from NC State, to round out the point guard rotation.

Kentucky will be really good.  They are simply too loaded NOT to be one of the stronger teams in the country.  However, I think they are getting a slight overrated bump because of how magically last year’s team blended and came together.  It isn’t supposed to work that well, and in fact, it DIDN’T several years before at UK, despite talent like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

I think they are ripe for a really tough game tonight.  Maryland is going to be MUCH better than expected, and again, that backcourt of Howard and Wells is one of the better in the ACC.  I like Maryland to give them a great game tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and wouldn’t be stunned if they won outright.

In the end, Kentucky will be a little too big and a little too deep for the Terps, but I like Maryland with the 10-plus points.

Free Pick:  Maryland Terrapins +10.5