The Kentucky Wildcats have won seven straight, but all of those came in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena.
On Saturday, Kentucky will play in Madison Square Garden against the Seton Hall Pirates of the Big East. Oddsmakers and experts expect this to be a close game, as Kentucky is currently just a six-point favorite as of Friday evening.
Saturday at noon, the Kentucky Wildcats will face the Seton Hall Pirates for the first time since 1988, where the Pirates defeated Kentucky 63-60 in the Great Alaska Shootout. The teams have only seen each other one other time, which was a 98-74 Kentucky victory in 1981.
I suppose this makes the game a rubber match of sorts, but both the location of the game and the youth of both teams makes this matchup more interesting than the history between the two schools.
The game will take place in Madison Square Garden, under the bright lights and noise of New York City. Although Seton Hall is just 15 miles away from the city in New Jersey, this is unlikely to be a home game as the Citi Hoops Classic is likely to be an event that shows how well Big Blue Nation travels.
Although the Pirates won 26 games last year and nearly upset the Kansas Jayhawks to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Seton Hall lost four starters and is very much trying to find its way this season.
The Pirates sit at 5-3 with the only notable victory coming from the Miami Hurricanes. They are coming off of a week where they had a close loss to Louisville at home and a dominant victory over New Hampshire. Myles Powell will be the guy Kentucky has to stop if they hope to control the game on Saturday. Powell is averaging 22.4 points per game this season.
In terms of national rankings, Kentucky ranks 27th nationally in field-goal-percentage compared to 142nd for Seton Hall. The Wildcats rank 112th national in defensive field-goal percentage compared to 135th for the Pirates. It’s safe to think the edge in this game is in favor of Kentucky due to their offense, as neither team is particularly good on defense, though the Wildcats did just hold an NCAA Tournament-caliber UNCG team to just 61 points.
Kentucky is trying to establish an identity after getting embarrassed in their opening game against Duke. There has been subtle improvement in each outing, but you have to wonder if the historic venue of Saturday’s game will bring out their best or cause the young players to come out shaky.
Given their recent domination in the paint and on the glass, you have to think Kentucky throws the ball into the post to get an early lead on Saturday. Look for Reid Travis to step up and have another huge game. This is also a game where PJ Washington should dominate, depending on which version of the sophomore forward makes an appearance.
Kentucky is now even a touchdown favorite over the Pirates on Saturday. Most believe the Wildcats should leave MSG with a win, but will they cover?
Here are some betting trends for both teams:
- Kentucky is 3-5 ATS this season
- The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Kentucky’s 8 games this season
- Kentucky is 0-1 SU and ATS in neutral site games this season
- Seton Hall is 4-4 ATS this season
- The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Seton Hall’s 8 games this season
- Seton Hall is 3-0 SU and ATS in neutral site games this season
- Kentucky is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 Saturday games.
- Kentucky is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games against a team with a winning percentage above .600.
ESPN gives Kentucky a 72.1% chance to leave Madison Square Garden with a victory over Seton Hall on Saturday.
TeamRankings projects a 75-70 win for Kentucky.
KenPom gives the Wildcats a 74% chance of winning and projects an 79-72 win.
SI’s Michael Beller is siding with the Wildcats:
This game is being played at Madison Square Garden as this season’s Citi Hoops Classic. Kentucky has ripped off seven straight wins after losing its season-opener to Duke, though the best team it has defeated in that stretch is UNC-Greensboro. Seton Hall, meanwhile, is still trying to figure itself out after losing Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez to graduation after last season. Myles Powell has stepped up as the go-to scorer on the offense, but he isn’t getting enough from his supporting cast, resulting in a 5–3 record thus far. The Wildcats are also in a bit of an identity crisis, with Keldon Johnson the only player on the team playing more than 70% of the minutes. We’ve seen Kentucky teams like this in the past figure it out and turn it on after the turn of the new year, and it will be good to see them back on the floor against a power-conference opponent.
Kentucky 79, Seton Hall 70
On Saturday, we will find out if this Kentucky team has truly turned a corner. Is Seton Hall good? Not really. They have a win over the University of Miami and played Louisville close. But they also lose to Saint Louis and got their doors blown off by Nebraska.
However, the last time the Wildcats were on a big stage in a neutral site game they were embarrassed in the worst way. Will the lights of Madison Square Garden be to bright? Will someone step up to join Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and Reid Travis in the club of guys willing to fight for a win?
It is my opinion that there is still work to do, but the Cats are moving in the right direction and will make light work of Seton Hall on Saturday.
Final Score: Kentucky 87, Seton Hall 69