Kentucky was a losing pick early last season, failing to cover the spread in its first five lined contests and going 6-10 against the spread en route to a 21-12 overall record that ended with a first round loss in the NIT. The Wildcats are doing a little better at the outset of this season, sitting 6-1 in the W-L column and 2-3 ATS, but they've shown signs of vulnerability the past two weeks, turnovers a big part of the trouble.
The Kentucky Wildcats will get a chance to improve on both the straight up and spread records Sunday when UK takes on the Providence Friars at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. FOX Sports 1 will televise the 8:30 PM (ET) tip, and the Wildcats are holding as 6-point favorites.
Wildcats Eye 5th-Straight Win Since Lone Defeat
Kentucky's rather ragged start is nothing new, and is in fact expected considering the reliance on freshmen to pull the load. Ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, the biggest surprise might be that this year's crop of youngsters has only lost one game, and that was a close 4-point decision to then-No. 2 Michigan State a little less than two weeks ago.
The Wildcats turned it over 17 times to the Spartans, or else they might still be sitting atop both polls instead of No. 3/4 by the writers and coaches respectively. Kentucky has won its four contests since then, but the same problem with turnovers has plagued UK in a couple of those matches.
A nearly 40-point margin of victory over Robert Morris masked 15 turnovers in what was a sloppy performance otherwise, and while the 'Cats cut the mistakes down vs. Cleveland State, they struggled to find the basket and needed a strong second half to escape with a 7-point win against the Vikings who were 24.5 point underdogs.
Kentucky is coming off an 81-63 dubya over Eastern Michigan this past Friday, but again it was turnovers that led to a slow start as the Wildcats once again failed to cover a 20+ point spread. The team committed 20 giveaways, five in the first 2:50 of the game, and sits in the middle of the nation in that department as a result.
Another problem has been long-range shooting where Kentucky is in the bottom 50 of the country connecting on just 28.9% of 3-point attempts.
Friars Becoming Relevant In New Big East
Providence is off to a 7-1 start to the campaign (4-4 ATS), and Ed Cooley continues to get the Friars turned around in only his third season on the job. But like the Wildcats, Cooley's troops have run into a little trouble covering the spread of late, dropping the cash in three of their last four, and also like UK, the Friars have struggled recently from beyond the arc.
The lone loss was to Maryland in the finals of the Paradise Jam last Wednesday in the Virgin Islands, a 56-52 setback that saw Providence close as a 1.5 point favorite. The Friars came back home to score a 78-69 victory Friday over Fairfield, Cooley's previous employer, but they couldn't build on a 10-point halftime lead and fell well short of the 17-point line in that game.
Providence is missing talented freshman Brandon Austin, a top-50 recruit out of Philadelphia who was suspended indefinitely for some classroom difficulties. Senior Bryce Cotton leads a quartet of Friars averaging double digits with an 18.5 PPG clip.
It's only the second time Providence and Kentucky have met, and the first time was 37 years ago in the NIT, a narrow 79-78 victory for the 'Cats. I'm going to get behind UK for my free NCAA Basketball picks tonight despite the recent problems.
My pick: Kentucky -6