John Calipari takes his unbeaten and top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats on the road Saturday evening for a college basketball betting matchup with the struggling Florida Gators.
It was supposed to be the game that decided the regular season title in the Southeastern Conference, and why not? After all, the Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators met in the conference championship a season ago, and entered the 2014-15 season as the favorites to compete for the title again.
Saturday's clash in Gainesville doesn't hold nearly as much importance now, the only real intrigue being whether or not the Wildcats can keep their undefeated season going en route to what is most assuredly the overall No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament. Florida and Kentucky are getting the prime-time treatment from ESPN in a 9 PM (ET) telecast from O'Connell Center, the 'Cats listed -7½ to -8 with a total yet to show up on SBR's live college basketball odds.
Kentucky was a very chalky 1/3 pick on the NCAA futures odds to win the SEC back in October, the Gators checking in next at 5/2. The Wildcats have dominated the series over the years to the tune of a 94-37 record vs. Florida, but that wide margin hides the fact the Gators won all three encounters last season.
This is the first of two collisions on the regular season schedule this time around, and Florida has been victorious and covered the last two in Gainesville, the totals splitting those tilts. The Gators and Wildcats will meet again one month from today in Lexington where UK has won six of the last seven meetings.
Cauley-Stein In Rut & Dealing With Sore Ankle
Kentucky (22-0 straight up, 11-11 against the spread) has continued to put up dubyas on the floor, but backing John Calipari's crew has hit a snag in the last couple of weeks, and throughout the SEC slate, for that matter. The Wildcats have turned away all comers in the league, but are on a 3-game skid vs. the college basketball odds to stand 3-6 ATS in conference action.
We know how tenuous the league schedule began for UK, nearly losing their first two SEC tilts to Ole Miss and Texas A&M outright, both games going past regulation and the win over the Aggies taking two overtimes. The near-losses seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the Wildcats who ran away with their next two matchups, but they've since fallen off with the last five contests seeing them favored by 12 points or more.
A big part of that has been diminished offensive output from Willie Cauley-Stein who is still not 100% following surgery on an ankle last year. The 7-foot junior has been held to just over 6 PPG in the last six trips to the floor, and Calipari may have to go without forward Trey Lyles for a third consecutive game as the freshman deals with undisclosed illness.
Gators Coming Off Upset Loss At Vanderbilt
Injuries, suspensions and eligibility issues have been a problem all season for Billy Donovan and Florida (12-10 SU, 7-12-2 ATS). First came the knee injury to DeVon Walker that ended the junior swingman's season before it began, a host of other problems leading Donovan to only having five players he could count on for all 22 Gator games.
Florida has managed to win just two of its last six contests despite being favored each time. The latest setback came Tuesday in Nashville where Vanderbilt posted a 67-61 decision over the Gators as 2½ point underdogs. A big problem for Florida has been on the glass where the Gators rank 12th in the SEC in rebounding, not a good sign going up against a huge Kentucky roster.
In a sport where anything and everything is possible, the Gators could shock us all with an outright win today, but this old guy is backing UK and laying the points for his free NCAA Basketball picks.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Kentucky -7½ at Pinnacle
Season: 43-36-1 (+3.4)