After an erratic two-game weekend to open the season, the Cats aren’t getting much love heading into their matchup with the No. 4 Jayhawks. Oddsmakers initially made Kentucky a 2.5-point underdog, but that’s already grown to five points as of Tuesday morning.
Ahead of tonight’s matchup, we gathered our staff for predictions on what takes place tonight, and if the Cats can pull off the sizable upset.
Kentucky vs Kansas on Tuesday night is the classic "Experience vs Talent" matchup. That’s not to say Kansas doesn’t have talent. They have a lot of talent and a lot more experience than Kentucky does.
Throughout the season, the young Cats will improve and adjust to the college game. It’s just that right now, their talent is raw, and they’re following up two underwhelming home wins with a matchup on the biggest regular season stage against the #4 ranked team in America.
Kentucky should lose, and that’s okay. I’m watching this game hoping to see them live up to the moment and figure out who is going to be the go-to guy in the big games. A Kentucky win would be unexpected, but very exciting. A hard fought loss would be very encouraging, in my opinion.
Prediction: Kansas 75, Kentucky 66
Last season the Kansas Jayhawks came to Rupp Arena and upset the Kentucky Wildcats on their home court. This year, they’ll meet in Chicago for what is expected to be an epic rematch. However, both teams will have many new faces.
Expect big games from Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander & one of the Kentucky bigs.
Diallo’s experience with the Cats last season is certainly showing in these first two regular season games. He’s leading the team in scoring with a 110 MPH motor and freakish athleticism at both ends of the court. The redshirt freshman will find a way to get the ball in the hoop against the Jayhawks.
Anyone who thinks Knox isn't Kentucky’s best player hasn’t paid much attention to his presence on the court. Not only does his game flow at an effortless pace, but he also impacts the game in multiple aspects. Big time players show up in big-time moments.
Gilgeous-Alexander is going to surprise many people this season. His long wingspan, size at PG & ability to shoot the ball will be one of John Calipari’s favorite tools come March.
Calipari has played musical chairs so far with his big men. One game it was Nick Richards, the next it was P.J. Washington dominating the game. Sprinkle in a bit of Sacha Killeya-Jones & Wenyen Gabriel, and you have a rotation of lengthy bigs who are impressively athletic. One of them will have a big game, just don’t be surprised if it’s Gabriel.
Kentucky’s length & size on defense, along with their speed in the fast break offense, should drive Kansas crazy. A lot of people are writing off this young Kentucky team who, respectively, struggles shooting from the perimeter.
I know Kansas brings far more experience and way better shooting to the table. However, Calipari is one of the more motivational coaches in the country. His troops will be fired up and ready to play tomorrow night.
Would I be shocked if the Wildcats lost by 10-12 points? No, not really. But I also wouldn’t be shocked at all if they went into Chicago, played a gritty game with Kansas and pulled out an upset.
This is no homer pick. More of just a gut feeling of a team I believe has a ceiling as high as anyone in college basketball.
Final Score: UK 74 - KU 70
Kentucky will likely be starting five freshmen and playing six, Kansas will be starting one and probably only playing two. The Jayhawks start two seniors; the Wildcats don't even have one on the roster. In March, the experience levels may balance out a bit more. But for Kentucky to face a veteran Kansas squad in its third game, it is difficult to feel optimistic.
DeVonte' Graham is a stud, and could potentially follow Frank Mason as player of the year. Bill Self has also added a great deal of experience via transfer in Malik Newman, Dedric and D.J. Lawson, Sam Cunliffe, and Charlie Moore. This is a Kansas team with a lot of talent and strong leadership, and it will be tough for Kentucky to pull off the win here.
In order to have a chance, Kevin Knox will have to have a monster game, and the guards will have to be able to prevent penetration in man-to-man defense. Now, there is also the possibility that Kentucky could go zone. If that happens, and Kansas is cold from beyond the car, then anything can happen. Otherwise, I am afraid the Wildcats will get their first loss of the season on Tuesday.
Prediction: Kansas 76, Kentucky 61
Honestly, I don't like this matchup at all for Kentucky. This team is young and raw, but filled with potential. That being said, I have been adamant that this team will struggle early and so far, that has been the case. If they played Kansas in February, I like their chances a TON better, but this early in the season, I don't think it looks good for the Wildcats.
Kansas's strength is in their guard play, and if Kentucky's guards struggle defending as they did against Vermont, this matchup could be Devonte Graham's coming-out party for contending as an All-American this year. Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk, Marcus Garrett, and LaGerald Vick really could make things tough on Kentucky with their quickness. Inside, I think Kentucky matches up fairly well, but the frontcourt must be ready for the 7 foot, 280 lb. Udoka Azubuike.
I don't know, maybe Kentucky comes out and surprises everyone, and we get a great all-around team effort. Prior Kentucky teams have really shined bright in the Champions Classic, but I just don't like the matchup at this point in the season when this team is still trying to figure out their identity, carve out roles, and reach their potential.
I hope I am wrong on this one.
Final score prediction: Kansas 79-60
John Calipari said it best Monday on ESPN. Kentucky will either win this game, or it will be a learning experience. As long as they don’t get blown out by 30+ or lose a key player to injury, a loss here means very little, as the Jayhawks are loaded with juniors and seniors who’ve been through the grind of a long season, not to mention played in some big postseason games.
On the other side, you’ve got mostly freshman and inexperienced sophomores just trying to learn how to play like a college team. They’re basically in pre-algebra while the Jayhawks are in calculus.
These Cats will eventually get there, but there’s still a ton of work to be done, so don’t get your hopes up tonight.
Heck, after this weekend, which could have been a 1-1 or even 0-2 start, tonight’s game feels like the Cats are playing with house money. When Kentucky was down double digits in the second half of their opener with Utah Valley, I think every Kentucky fan alive would have taken a 2-1 start by the Cats, which is what they’ll likely be by night’s end.
They were very lucky to win at home against Vermont and Utah Valley, so it’s hard to see them making a strong push against Kansas tonight.
Oh, and if you are a bettor, go hard on Kansas winning by 4-5 points tonight. It will be an upset if Kentucky can even keep it that close.
Prediction: Kansas 80, Kentucky 68.
For most programs, a 2-0 start is reason to celebrate and get excited about things to come. But this is Kentucky, the epicenter of college basketball, and you can actually feel a sense of panic looming over the Big Blue Nation this week as Tuesday’s early season matchup with Kansas has arrived a little too soon.
As expected, this Kentucky team has had some growing pains. But after battling Vermont down to the last possession on Sunday afternoon, the thought of playing close games has finally hit home with a fan base that expects blow out wins during the non-conference season, not nail bitters in early November. The biggest shock to the system has been watching this young team get beat on the glass and come up short in the battle for loose balls. In both instances, it’s about raw effort and has nothing to do with age or experience. The Cats will have to fight for every inch on Tuesday night at the United Center.
For me, the biggest issue is on the defensive end, where we had to play a zone defense to make a run in the second half to beat a pesky Utah Valley team. Sunday’s game brought the realization that we can’t defend the three as Vermont had enough open looks to really make things interesting. Kansas will use a similar offensive approach and will shoot a lot of three's out of transition and use high ball screens to create separation on the perimeter. We must close out on three-point shooters tonight.
Offensively, the Cats have been inconsistent at times in the half court and have yet to understand the importance of good shot selection. Hamidou Diallo and Quade Green both need to make better decisions within the offense and our size and length are only an advantage when we get lane touches. The key to tonight's game just might be Nick Richards, who has to bang in the post, rebound, block shots and protect the rim in big-time games. Unfortunately, I don't think Kentucky is ready for the big stage yet.
Prediction: Kansas 75, UK 63