Rupp Arena in Lexington is the site for this showdown between ranked teams as the Florida Gators pay a visit to the Kentucky Wildcats. Florida sits No. 3 in the AP Poll and fourth in the Coaches, while Kentucky is 14/13 in the two conventional rankings. ESPN will provide prime-time coverage beginning at 9 PM (ET).
Kentucky went out as a 3 point home favorite, but there was an immediate adjustment to -2, and the college basketball betting board is listing 131 for the total.
It's the first of two scheduled meetings between the two, the other taking place on the final Saturday of the regular season in Gainesville. Last season's clashes were split with each team winning and covering at home; both games stayed 'under' the total.
The Wildcats have triumphed in 48 of the 56 games played in Lexington where the Gators last won in Feb. 2007. The Gators went on to win their second consecutive NCAA Championship that season and have since dropped all six on this floor, beating the spread in three of those games along with one push.
Gators Put 16-Game Win Streak On Line
Florida (22-2 straight up, 9-9-2 against the spread) might be more confident it can come away from Rupp Arena with a win after posting a dubya Tuesday at another venue that has often been the site of disappointment. Billy Donovan's group went into Knoxville's Thompson-Boling Arena having won just once in the previous eight trips, and left Tennessee with a 67-58 victory.
The victory was the 16th straight for the Gators who own a perfect 11-0 mark atop the SEC. Scottie Wilbekin paced Florida with 21 points to help cover the -2 Gator backers were giving up, stopping a 2-game slide at the window.
It wasn't an easy win and cover, however. Florida trailed by as many as six in the first half, and needed a 9-2 run to begin the second half to gain control of the Volunteers. Tennessee cut the Gators advantage to one point with four minutes to go, but back-to-back 3's by Michael Frazier II and Wilbekin thwarted that rally, and Florida used a 6-for-8 close at the free-throw line to finish things.
Offense has been streaky for the Gators during the win streak, but save for last Saturday's home tilt vs. Alabama in which the Crimson Tide shot better than 50% from the field and beyond the arc, the defense has been solid. Florida ranks sixth in the nation allowing under 58 points per game, and that average is a point less vs. conference foes.
'Cats Look To Extend 22-Game Home Win Streak
It has been a while since Kentucky (19-5 SU, 11-11 ATS) dropped a contest in front of the home faithful. John Calipari's crew has reeled off 22 straight wins at Rupp, including all 14 on this year's slate so far. You have to go back a little more than 13 months since UK was shocked in Lexington, and it was a shocker indeed when Texas A&M posted an 83-71 upset as a 15 point underdog in Jan. 2013.
The Wildcats have strung together a modest 4-game win streak since an upset at LSU in late-January. Their latest victory came Wednesday at Auburn where Kentucky left town with a 64-56 victory. The final 11 points UK scored came from the free-throw line, but it was enough to grab the cover as 7-point chalk and also marked the third consecutive 'under' for Wildcat backers.
Several individual matchups should make this game worth the price of admission, starting inside between Florida's Patric Young and Kentucky's Julius Randle. Out on the perimeter we have Wildcat twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison squaring off against Wilbekin and Frazier for the Gators.
In the end, I'm going to bet on UK winning enough of those battles to get the cover; I'll add the 'Cats to my free NCAA basketball picks for Saturday.
My pick: Kentucky -2