The Kentucky Wildcats’ dominating performance in Thursday’s Round of 64 over Abilene Christian (without star forward PJ Washington) was certainly comforting.
But tougher competition also lies ahead for the 28-6 Wildcats. With their advancement to the Round of 32, they’ll need to step their game up even further to contain the hot-shooting Wofford Terriers on Saturday afternoon.
If you watched Thursday night’s game, then you had to notice Keldon Johnson jumping off your television screen. The first-round draft prospect has had shining moments this season, though they’ve been accompanied by spurts of inconsistency.
With Washington on the sideline, Johnson literally jumped at the opportunity to lead his team to victory. The freshman wing notched a game-high 25 points, netting 10 of his 16 shot attempts and grabbing six rebounds.
Backing Johnson was the combination of Reid Travis and Tyler Herro, who chipped in with double-digit scoring of their own. Travis scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds as Herro notched 14 points.
But Wofford has looked like one of the better mid-major teams to make the Big Dance in recent memory, and that’s thanks in large part to the long ball. Senior guard Fletcher Magee, who has set the NCAA career record for three-pointers made, finished with 24 points on 7/14 shooting in Wofford’s 84-68 win over Seton Hall.
The nation’s best shooter from deep, Magee is averaging 20.6 points per game and hits 42.8% from deep. He’s one of the best guards in college basketball, and Ashton Hagans will need to be at his best defensively to even contain Magee.
The Wildcats’ collective effort will most certainly be required as Washington continues to miss time, as he’s already been ruled out for Saturday’s game. If Kentucky wishes to move on to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City next week, they’ll need to mirror Thursday night’s production against Wofford.
In terms of the advanced metrics, KenPom thinks this will be a very close game. That’s due in large part to Wofford sporting one of the nation’s best offenses, as they currently rank 10th in offensive efficiency, third in effective field goal percentage, and second in three-point percentage.
But Kentucky’s defense and rebounding has been just as good this season, as they currently rank eighth in defensive efficiency, seventh in offensive rebound percentage and seventh in two-point percentage defense.
Kentucky opened as a five-point favorite, which is pretty small for a 2 vs. 7 matchup. But we know this is no ordinary Round of 32 clash between a title contender and a team that wasn’t even a top-six seed. Wofford is fully capable of knocking off an elite team in the Big Dance, and their odds of doing so only grow with PJ Washington being out.
This should be a battle that comes down to the final minutes.
- 18-16 vs. the spread this season
- 16-15 vs. the spread as favorite
- 3-3 vs. the spread following a loss
- 15-12 vs. the spread following a win
- 8-6 vs. the spread in non-conference games
- 3-3 vs. the spread on a neutral court
- 0-1 against the spread with only one day off.
- 15-8 vs. the spread as a favorit
- 16-11 vs. the spread after A Win 16-11-0
- 4-3 vs. the spread after only one day off
- 17-14 vs. the spread in all Games
- 5-5 vs. the spread in non-conference games
- 5-9 vs. the spread as an away team
- 2-4 vs. the spread as away underdog
- 2-5 vs. the spread as underdog
Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader is going with a 73-65 win for Kentucky.
TeamRankings expects a close battle, projecting a 72-66 win for the Wildcats.
numberFire thinks the margin will be even closer, as they have Kentucky escaping with a 72-70 win.
KenPom gives Kentucky a 67% chance of winning and projects a final score of 72-68 for the Wildcats.
Massey Ratings also gives Kentucky a 67% chance of winning and projects a final score of 72-68 for Lexington’s Cats.
David of Free Picks and Parlays has Kentucky covering the spread of five for Saturday’s matchup.
Phil Naessens of Stat Salt also is siding with Kentucky, predicting they’ll cover their six-point spread.
Pete Fiutak of CFN has the Wildcats covering the spread of six, predicting they taken down the Terriers by a final score of 87-80.
Parlays Pundit of Doc’s Sports Service, however, is taking Wofford to cover a six-and-a-half point spread.
Kentucky scooped significant momentum in their first round breeze-bye of Abilene Christian. While John Calipari’s team will be thrown a bigger punch, they should be able to weather the storm against Wofford and advance to the next round of the NCAA Tournament. Against improved bigs, expect Kentucky’s front court to take a slight step back but the backcourt combination of Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and (of course) Tyler Herro to back them up.
Final Score: Kentucky 79, Wofford 70