Winning seven in a row (10 of their last 11) has mirrored contributions from every member on the roster. To sustain their winning formula, the recipe will be just that simple on Saturday.
While a majority of Kentucky’s wins have been credited to the play of sophomore forward PJ Washington, many other Wildcats have silently played their best basketball of the season. For example, while he’s not leading the team in scoring, freshman point guard Ashton Hagans has dished out six or more assists in four-straight games.
While Reid Travis has been up-and-down offensively, his presence in the painted area has dominantly impacted Kentucky’s ability to rebound the basketball at a high rate. Freshman shooting guard Tyler Herro has become one of the SEC’s better on-ball defenders while also scoring double figures in four of his last five appearances.
Keldon Johnson is the reigning SEC freshman of the week and should look to continue to let the game come to him as the season moves along. He’s one of the more naturally-gifted scorers in the country, as he can make a shot from any place on the floor and has the athleticism to also beat guys to the cup.
Kentucky will need their entire starting five to contribute on Saturday, but will also require energy from their reserves. Head coach John Calipari’s front-court rotation of EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards has suddenly blossomed despite limited minutes. The two connected on a handful of plays towards the end of Kentucky’s win at Vanderbilt, further boosting their confidence ahead of the weekend’s marquee matchup.
For the backcourt reserves, Immanuel Quickley and Jemarl Baker have calmly asserted themselves into key roles for the team. Quickley has emerged as the team’s sixth-man, running the offense when Hagans takes a breather as well as hitting timely shots from behind the arc. Baker is just a month off of his injury, but is starting to mold nicely within the team’s chemistry.
Defensively, the Wildcats will need to lock-in on KeVaughn Allen. Allen is averaging 18.6 PPG over his last five contests and could see a multitude of bodies come his way. Noah Locke, who is averaging 15.6 PPG over his last five, should also draw a significant amount of attention.
On the boards, senior Kevarrius Hayes should give Travis a run for his money. Despite coming up short of double-figure scoring, the 6’9, 227-pound center is averaging eight rebounds and 2.6 blocks over his last five contests.
Going into Saturday, Kentucky ranks No. 9 overall in KenPom. A big part of that remains the defense, as the Wildcats rank No. 9 in defensive efficiency. The offense is catching up, as they now rank No. 17 offensive efficiency.
While Florida sports a 12-8 record, they’re actually KenPom’s No. 31 team on the strength of their No. 10 defensive efficiency. Their offense leaves a lot to be desired, as they rank No. 89 in offensive efficiency, but they’ve shown they can catch fire from deep and push any team.
Kentucky opened as a 2.5-point favorite. KenPom projected the Wildcats to be a 2.5-point favorite, but given their recent level of play, that line could be closer to 3-4 points come game time.
- Kentucky is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games
- Kentucky is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Kentucky’s last 6 games
- Kentucky is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games on the road
- Kentucky is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games on the road
- The total has gone OVER in 7 of Kentucky’s last 10 games on the road
- Kentucky is 6-3 SU in its last 9 games when playing Florida
- The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Kentucky’s last 8 games when playing Florida
- Kentucky is 2-5 ATS in its last 7 games when playing on the road against Florida
- Kentucky is 2-5 SU in its last 7 games when playing on the road against Florida
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Kentucky’s last 6 games when playing on the road against Florida
- Florida is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Florida’s last 6 games
- Florida is 3-6 SU in its last 9 games when playing Kentucky
- The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Florida’s last 8 games when playing Kentucky
- Florida is 5-2 ATS in its last 7 games when playing at home against Kentucky
- Florida is 5-2 SU in its last 7 games when playing at home against Kentucky
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Florida’s last 6 games when playing at home against Kentucky
All four ESPN experts are going with the Wildcats.
TeamRankings is predicting a 66-64 Kentucky win.
numberFire actually predicts 70-69 win for Florida.
Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated is going with a defensive struggle that sees the Cats come out on top.
Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington, Tyler Herro and Reid Travis are all averaging between 12.3 and 14.4 points per game with varying skill sets that make a one-size-fits-all defense unworkable against Kentucky. Florida must grind this game to a halt when it’s in its halfcourt offense, and create and take advantage of live-ball turnovers—Florida is second in defensive turnover rate—if it’s going to have any chance at pulling off the upset.
Kentucky 67, Florida 60
KenPom is projecting a 64-62 win for Kentucky.
All nine of out staff picks were in favor of Kentucky.
We’ll add in more picks as they come out.
So far, a sound argument can be made that Calipari has turned in his best coaching performance to date. Kentucky looked like a deer facing headlights following their blowout loss vs. Duke to start the season.
However, with 11 games remaining in the regular season, here come the Wildcats as they surge back up the AP Top-25 rankings. Despite back-to-back road trips, Calipari should have his men focused and ready for a hostile environment.
team win will give Kentucky their fourth-straight week with an undefeated record, propelling them into top-five consideration.
Final Score: Kentucky 76, Florida 72