Despite playing yet another 40-minute outing at arguably the highest level of any team in the country, the Kentucky Wildcats remained fourth in the Associated Press top-25 poll.
Yes, even the Duke Blue Devils managed to remain in the top-three after losing their best player and falling to a team who Kentucky manhandled in every facet back before Christmas. PJ Washington was also snubbed from being SEC Player of the Week in favor of Texas A&M’s Savion Flagg of all people.
However, head coach John Calipari and his Wildcats should welcome all of this as added motivation to prepare them for a Tuesday night matchup with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
As losers of five straight, the Razorbacks have surrendered more than 80 points per game to average teams during that stretch. Kentucky, however, comes into the game holding their opponents to an average of just over 63 PPG.
The two teams are at opposite ends of the defensive spectrum, with Kentucky having the supreme advantage. On offense, the Wildcats haven’t scored below 65 points since January 12th.
Needless to say, Kentucky’s offense should blossom against a below-average defense while their defense should feast on yet another mediocre offense.
Last time out, Kentucky suited up without starting center Reid Travis. The answer for their gaping hole at center wasn’t necessarily a big man, though a particular player did indeed play “big.” Keldon Johnson grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds against the Auburn Tigers, taking the initiative of attempting to rebound every ball that bounced off the rim.
Defensively, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards each stepped into increased minutes and each blocked three shots. Offensively, PJ Washington continued his surge as the Southeastern Conference’s best player by scoring a game-high 24 points.
This Tuesday, Kentucky will need the same effort across the board ahead of a SEC showdown with Tennessee on Saturday.
As you can imagine, this looks like a huge mismatch on favor, and the advanced analytics agree. KenPom now has Kentucky, ranked No. 5 overall, in rarified air as a team that ranks in the top 10 in offensive (9) and defensive (8) efficiency. Duke, Virginia, Michigan State and North Carolina are the only other teams that can claim such a feat.
In fact, Kentucky’s only national title team under John Calipari was top 10 in both categories. Both of his teams that have accomplished that feat (2011-12 and 2014-15) reached the Final Four.
Arkansas, meanwhile, ranks No. 66 overall, 101 in offensive efficiency and 61 in defensive efficiency. Whether it’s an offensive explosion or a defensive suffocation, the Wildcats should win by double digits as long as they’re ready to play.
Kentucky opened as a whopping 18-point favorite over the Razorbacks, who have failed to cover the spread in six straight games. The Wildcats have covered the spread in five of their last six home games.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Wildcats a 95.6% chance to claim victory, while KenPom gives them a 93% chance of winning
- 16-11 vs. the spread this season
- 14-11 vs. the spread as favorite
- 14-8 vs. the spread following a win
- 11-7 vs. the spread with 2-3 days off
- 9-7 vs. the spread as home team
- 9-7 vs. the spread as home favorite
- 9-5 vs. the spread against SEC teams
- 11-16 vs. the spread this season
- 5-6 vs. the spread as underdog
- 3-9 vs. the spread following a loss
- 6-14 vs. the spread with 2-3 days off
- 4-5 vs. the spread as road team
- 3-4 vs. the spread as road underdog
- 4-10 vs. the spread against SEC teams
One might consider the Wildcats’ game against Arkansas to be a “trap” ahead of Kentucky’s trip to Knoxville this weekend. However, if you’ve followed Calipari’s coaching job this season, you’d know firsthand that won’t be the case. Calipari has had his troops prepared for every game this season, and Tuesday night shouldn’t be any different. Kentucky may not play all-out for 40 minutes, but their efforts should be more than enough to firmly close the deal.
Final Score: Kentucky 82, Arkansas 59