#12 Kansas Jayhawks vs. #2 Kentucky Wildcats -7
Ah… how sweet it is. While the NBA millionaires and billionaires squabble over dollars, we are left with nothing but the sweet harmony of college hoops taking the big stage. And the November stage can’t get much bigger than four of the nation’s all-time great programs colliding back to back on the same neutral court. I’ll touch on the opening act, Michigan St. v Duke in the close, but today’s free pick focuses on Kansas and Kentucky.
In Lexington, Calipari has taken the term “reloading” to ridiculous extremes. For the third straight season the Cats have a nationally ranked ballclub relying nearly entirely on McDonald’s All-American freshman. Would it be nice to have DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Brandin Knight (heck, even Tyreke Evans) all in college? Sure. But don’t shed to many tears for Coach Cal who landed Jeff Teague to slide into the coveted spot of Coach Cal’s point guard (after all, the last four were NBA lottery picks in four years concurrently).
Kentucky’s youth garners most of the headlines; it’s commonplace the last four years. However, it’s Kansas that will be flooring a nearly entirely untested team in tonight’s State Farm Classic finale. Kansas expects to play six freshman heavy minutes. For those six, tonight will mark their first real collegiate game. Meanwhile, on the Wildcat side of the ball, Doron Lamb and preseason All-American Terrance Jones return to provide some offense as well as some much needed leadership.
Kansas is a classic case of a team that could be good by the end of the season, but is heavily over-ranked based on pedigree and name recognition. I find it hard to believe this team is really the twelfth best team in the country right now. Kentucky, on the other hand, is absolutely loaded and, on paper, is the only team with an eight-man rotation that can rival North Carolina’s. They don’t have the offensive smoothness of a Harrison Barnes, but they do have a little better mix of perimeter shooting, offensively gifted point guard (Marcus Teague), and a slashing big (Terrance Jones). We will get to find out for real when the two square off on December 3rd, but my early inclination is that Kentucky is the best team in the country.
I think Kansas is a little out of their depth tonight, and their youth will be exposed. Even more exposed will be the stark difference in team athleticism the Wildcats possess. I think Kentucky will struggle with some early shot selection, but will eventually overwhelm Bill Self’s good, but not yet close to great, Jayhawk squad. Give me Kentucky laying the seven.
Bonus College Basketball Insight:
Look for Austin Rivers to grow very frustrated tonight with Michigan State’s bruising physical defensive approach. You think he took some wild shots against Belmont? Wait until tonight. Michigan State is a relentless offensive-rebounding focused ballclub. They lack the pretty offensive flow of Duke, but I’m not sure they can’t out-tough them tonight. Look at Duke’s past NCAA tourney exits; Arizona last year, LSU in 07; they historically struggle with teams who like to ugly it up and get rough.
Duke has WAY more talent, but I think Sparty roughs ‘em up a little tonight. I like the Spartans getting +6.5 on a neutral floor.