NCAA Tournament Picks: Cincinnati vs. Kentucky

Doug Upstone

Friday, March 20, 2015 5:20 PM GMT

Friday, Mar. 20, 2015 5:20 PM GMT

With potentially five games to go, what everyone from college basketball handicappers to casual fans of basketball this time of year is talking about is can Kentucky be upset before reaching 40-0?

Most do not believe it will happen, especially this early in the NCAA Tournament, but there is always some doubt and a case can be made, no matter how unlikely. However, our greatest concern is what the sportsbooks betting odds say and they have the top-ranked Wildcats at -16.5 with a total of 119 in the second game of the day.


Can Cincinnati Cover or Pull Off Outright Upset?
If you have not seen the Bearcats much this year, they are still the same old defensive team like in the past, holding opposing teams to 55.6 points a game on 38.9 percent shooting. They prefer to get your grill and make the opposing team very uncomfortable with how closely they guard.

With head coach Mick Cronin sidelined overcoming an illness, interim coach Larry Davis has filled in admirable in keeping the program on course and they are 23-10 (15-14 ATS). Davis has maintained the same somewhat slower pace on offense which results in 62.5 points a contest.

However, for anyone making NCAA tournament pick, there are differences between this Cincy crew and its predecessors. It begins with shooting, though the Bearcats point total is quite low, on the year they are converting 45.1 percent of attempts and in winning six of seven (5-2 ATS), Cincinnati has made 48 percent from the field.

It is a given to compete with Kentucky, you have to shoot well, since their defense holds opposing squads to only 35.3 shooting.

On defense the Cincinnati will play hard and physical, but compared to past teams which were essentially man to man, this group will play quite a bit of matchup zone, that make opponents think rather than react and by their numbers they have been quite successful using it.  


What does Kentucky Do to Combat Cincinnati?
The Wildcats are 7-3-1 ATS in their last 11 outings versus the NCAA Tournament odds, which have been at least -9.5 points and higher. How John Calipari’s uber-talent squad knocks out the Bearcats is by defending closely and being aware of the passing lanes.

You might think don’t they do that already and yes that is generally correct. However, it matters more in this matchup for sports picks because despite how well Cincinnati shoots the orange, they were dead last in the American Conference in turnovers per 100 possessions at 22. That is correct, better than one out of five times the Bearcats had the ball on offense, a turnover resulted and they were not facing defenses like Kentucky’s.

By now the Wildcats NBA-sized frontcourt has seen the tape on Cincy versus Purdue and they have to be thrilled by what they saw. The Boilermakers stayed in the game the entire way and lead most of the way by having a decisive 51-38 edge in rebounding, which included a mind- blowing 21 offense boards.

If Cincinnati does such a poor job on the glass against the ‘Cats, Ashley Judd will be grinning from ear to ear for two hours.


How This Game Plays Out
My immediate reaction to the spread was I thought it was inflated because it was Kentucky. But after checking two sets of my power rankings, Big Blue comes in at -16.5 and -17, which substantiates the odds makers figure.

I’m going to lean towards all that talent Kentucky possesses because if they can dominate on the glass any as well as Purdue, and they are capable of more, and with Cincinnati turnover-prone, they can take a game which should be in the 12-14 point range and stretch it 18 points and move on to the Sweet 16.

NCAA Tournament Pick – Kentucky -16.5 at Bookmaker.

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