Off a narrow escape vs. Ole Miss, the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats taste the conference highway for the first time Saturday with a college basketball odds battle at Texas A&M.
And so the talk an undefeated season for the Kentucky Wildcats continues. It's a discussion that almost ended earlier this week, bringing some so-called experts out thumping their chests in "I told you so" fashion while opining Kentucky isn't nearly as good as everyone thinks.
I came away from that game with an entirely different view, one that cottons to the notion the Wildcats might be even better than first thought following Tuesday's close call against Ole Miss. If so, the 'Cats should come out Saturday afternoon with a new focus in their first SEC road game at the Texas A&M Aggies.
With brutal cold forcing many to hunker down at home the next few days, there should be a large TV audience for CBS' 1 PM (ET) tip at Reed Arena. Still 30 or so hours ahead of the tilt, neither a spread nor a total has been released, but you can bet SBR's live NCAA basketball odds will have those numbers as soon as possible.
Since becoming conference foes at the start of the 2012-13 campaign, Kentucky is 2-1 against the Aggies who are 2-1 against the spread in those matchups. The Wildcats won the lone meeting on the A&M campus in that span, but needed extra play to do so and failed to cover a -6½ line.
UK Survives Hot-Shooting Rebels
The one stat that really stood out in the boxscore for Kentucky (14-0 straight up, 8-6 against the spread) a couple of days ago was how well Ole Miss was able to find the net. The Wildcats are tops in the country allowing teams to shoot just over 31% per game, and the Rebels came very close to hitting half of their shots, hanging with UK thanks largely to a 9-17 effort from beyond the arc.
Texas A&M will have to come out of a deep funk from long range -- 6 for last 35 -- to even come close to that. Making things even more difficult for the Aggies is they might have to play without their leading scorer, Jalen Jones, due to an ankle injury that also held him out Tuesday's game at Alabama.
One of Kentucky's few weaknesses, free-throw shooting, also nearly cost John Calipari's crew who left 12 points on the charity stripe. Still, the 'Cats made enough to win the game by outscoring the Rebels 28-19 in that column. We know that A&M is going to be physical inside and out, so the difference between a UK cover in this one could very well come down to making more of the freebies count Saturday.
Where Will Offense Come From For Ags?
Not having Jones for the SEC opener left Texas A&M (9-4 SU, 5-6 ATS) even more impotent offensively. His status for Saturday remains up in the air, and the Aggies won't only miss his 13+points per game, but also his defense if he's sidelined against Kentucky.
Like most teams the Wildcats face, A&M is going to be a disadvantage inside, even more so than others. Kourtney Roberson and Antwan Space will have their hands full against Willie Cauley-Stein and his fellow UK behemoths, all boiling down to the Aggies needing a near-perfect game all-around to simply stay within 8-10.
About the only thing that could go wrong on for Kentucky this short weekend trek is the weather, and even that should only delay the Wildcats' a bit. The latest cold front to sweep down and grip the Lower 48 made its way into Texas, with the possibility for sleet in the College Station forecast Friday afternoon and into Saturday morning.
We know this spread will be in the mid-to-upper teens at least, maybe even hit 20 if Jones is ruled out of action before the tip. Had Kentucky breezed by Ole Miss, I'd be inclined to take Texas A&M and the points; instead, I'm leaning towards the Wildcats for my NCAA basketball pick.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Lean Kentucky -16
Season: 11-17 (-7.70)