It can take time for a college basketball team to come together and play as a cohesive unit, and that learning curve can be especially long for incoming freshmen. But if Friday's season opener is any indication, the youthful Kentucky Wildcats are going to be quick learners.
The top-ranked Wildcats tipped their 2013-14 campaign off with an 89-57 victory over the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs, overcoming a slow start to the game that added a few more gray hairs for John Calipari to run his Grecian Formula comb through this week. Kentucky will now entertain their neighbors from the Cincinnati suburbs with a visit from the Northern Kentucky Norse on Sunday. Tip-off from Rupp Arena is a little past 4 PM (ET) with ESPN3 streaming the action.
Northern Kentucky reaches Lexington following an upset bid at Purdue on Friday, seeing a 4-point lead vanish in the final 58 seconds to fall 77-76. Neither Kentucky's win nor NKU's loss made it to the college basketball betting board, and it's looking like the sports books are going to wuss out on this game as well with NCAAB odds still unavailable on game day.
If and when they are released, you can bet SBRforum.com will have them, so check back leading up to tip-off to get the latest spreads and totals.
Make Money With The Sunday Picks of the Day~
Calipari Starts Four Freshmen In Opener
A combination of first-game jitters and inexperience were behind Kentucky's sloppy play in Friday's contest vs. UNC-Asheville. Calipari sent four freshmen onto the floor at the outset, sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein the lone UK player with any experience under his belt. Four other freshmen would come off the bench at some point, leading to first-year players logging 148 of the 200 minutes for the Wildcats.
Andrew Harrison scored the first official points of he new season with a layup 30 seconds into the match, the point guard's only bucket of the game, but Asheville took advantage of mistakes and poor decisions to stay with the Wildcats and hold a 13-12 lead with just under 11 minutes left in the first half. Kentucky played much smarter and found the net more frequently from that point on as a result.
This isn't the first time Calipari has enjoyed such a talented freshmen group of players, something we touched on when previewing some of the top youngsters in a One-&-Done segment last month. Julius Randle lit up the boxscore by the final buzzer with a game-high 23 points to go with his 15 rebounds. Marcus Lee came off the bench to add 17, and Kentucky controlled the glass behind Randle and soph Alex Poythress who posted his own double-double with 10 points and 13 boards in a relief role.
As impressive as the double-doubles by Randle and Poythress were, it was perhaps the play of point guard Andrew Harrison that ultimately helped calm the young Wildcats after the shaky start. His twin brother and fellow starter Aaron Harrison added four steals.
NKU Still Growing In 2nd Season At Div. I Level
The Norse are playing Div. I ball for just the second year, making their performance at Purdue on Friday all the more impressive. The Boilermakers are coming off a poor 2012-13 campaign and don't have one of their better teams in recent years, but they're still expected to at least compete for a spot at the NCAA Tournament.
Northern Kentucky had the lead at Mackey Arena more often than the home Boilers did, and just came up short in the end. Head coach Dave Bezold is relying on several sophomores to get the job done this season, including Jalen Billups who was the squad's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer a year ago. Another key piece for the Norse is Jordan Jackson, a junior transfer who stuffed his stat sheet at Purdue with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The Norse won't be afraid of the Wildcats Sunday afternoon, but they also won't be able to keep up with UK. Calipari has a big game in Chicago against Michigan State on Tuesday, a contest we will preview at SBR, but he isn't going to ease up too much on NKU today since he wants to get his star kids plenty of minutes before taking on the Spartans. Don't expect to see the Norse come even close to another upset for todays NCAA Basketball Picks.
My pick: No Line, Kentucky 81-60