It’s the matchup we expected when Northern Kentucky University won the Horizon League Tournament. The two teams from the Bluegrass State squaring off in the 2/15 matchup in the final game of the Friday night slate.
The Norse come in after winning their conference tournament although finishing fourth in the regular season Horizon League standings. They finished 24-10 with a 12-6 conference record.
Several players from Kentucky make up the NKU roster. Four of the Norse’s top five scorers played high school basketball in Kentucky. Drew McDonald (Newport Central Catholic), Lavone Holland II (Ballard), Carson Williams (Owen County), and Mason Faulkner (Caverna) combine for 48.7 points per game.
Nick Ayers, who played at Simon Kenton High School in Kentucky, is the fifth player from Kentucky on the NKU roster but he receives very little playing time.
Kentucky will definitely have the size advantage over the Norse, as their tallest players come in standing at 6’7. Kentucky has six players taller than 6’7.
Despite that, NKU has fared well rebounding most of the year. In games against Illinois and West Virginia, both losses, the Norse won the rebounding battle.
The Norse led the Horizon League in three pointers made, averaging 8.7 per game. The Norse have guys that can knock down perimeter jump shots including Cole Murray (40.6 percent), Jordan Garnett (42.5 percent), Mcdonald (38.8 percent), and Holland (37.4 percent).
NKU Head Coach John Brannen is no stranger to the University of Kentucky. He served as an assistant coach at Alabama from 2009-2013 and was Associate Head Coach from 2013-2015 and was the interim head coach at Alabama in 2015.
If the outside jumpers are falling, the Norse could hang around in this game and give Kentucky a scare. However, Kentucky’s size and talent differential should win out in the end. This is not a game for Kentucky to be looking ahead to the next round though. They will need to come out with energy and execute to ensure the victory.
Here is everything you’ll need to watch and follow this matchup:
Northern Kentucky Norse (24-10, 12-6 in Horizon League) vs Kentucky Wildcats (29-5, 16-2 in SEC)
When: Friday, March 17
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Game Time: This game will tip off 30 minutes after the conclusion of Wichita State vs Dayton at 7:10 p.m. EST. That means Kentucky and NKU will tip off around 9:40 p.m.
Announcers: The game will be televised on CBS with announcers Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson on the call.
Online and mobile streaming: The best places to watch online are at NCAA.com/MarchMadness or the NCAA March Madness Live app.
Odds: Kentucky opened as a 19-point favorite. KenPom projected Kentucky to be an 18.5-point favorite. Kentucky is 8-2-1 ATS in its last 11 games in March, while Northern Kentucky is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games against teams with winning records.
Prediction: KenPom projects Kentucky to win 86-68 and gives the Cats a 95-percent chance of winning this matchup.
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