NCAAB Picks: Kentucky Able to Pull Off Undefeated Season?

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 8:58 PM GMT

The University of Kentucky remains the overwhelming national championship favorite on NCAA basketball odds at all sportsbooks, but after the Wildcats' near upset loss on Tuesday at home to Ole Miss is an unbeaten record now an unlikely proposition?

Almost Biggest Win in Ole Miss History
Entering Tuesday's SEC opener against an average Mississippi team, Kentucky led the nation in average margin of victory and beat just one team by fewer than 10 points: a 58-51 defensive slugfest at blood rival Louisville, a national title contender itself, on Dec. 27. Prior to that UK had routed Top 25 teams Kansas, Texas and North Carolina.

So maybe Kentucky was simply rusty Tuesday in having not played in more than a week and coming off the holiday break. Or perhaps it was simply a letdown game after playing the Cardinals. Maybe UK was looking ahead to Saturday's game at Texas A&M? Sportsbooks still had Kentucky as a 22.5-point favorite against the Rebels on the NCAA basketball odds.

Aaron Harrison saved Kentucky's bacon against Ole Miss in the 89-86 overtime win. Harrison led the team with 26 points -- double more than any other player -- and hit two key free throws with 1:29 left in the extra session to put the Cats up for good. The Rebels still had a chance to tie late after Kentucky freshman Trey Lyles missed two free throws with 15.4 seconds left, but Martavious Newby's 3-pointer missed and was pulled down by UK 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein to secure the win.

Kentucky still leads the nation by far in defensive efficiency and field-goal percentage, but Tuesday was easily UK's worst defensive effort of the season as Ole Miss shot 49.2 percent overall and 52.9 percent from long range. The Wildcats entered allowing teams to shoot only 29.7 percent overall and 26.7 from 3-point range. UK also allowed its most overall points and most in the first half (38) and second half (39). Kentucky, which has more size than most NBA teams, was even outscored in the paint 30-26 -- and Ole Miss generally has three guards on the floor at all times. No other team had outscored UK down there.

It's a good thing that Aaron Harrison and brother Andrew (12 points, five assists) stepped up because freshman guard Tyler Ulis really struggled. He had largely been very good this year but finished with two points. The Rebels went after the 5-foot-9 Ulis. Mississippi guard Stefan Moody finished with 25 points, while backcourt mate Jarvis Summers had 23.

 

Slight Odds Shift
Kentucky remains the -125 national title favorite at sportsbooks, and one game isn't going to change that. One sportsbook offered a UK vs. the field prop for the championship with Kentucky a -125 favorite but that's down now. Finally, Kentucky had been listed by another sportsbook at +250 to go unbeaten all season and -400 not to. The former number has jumped to +300.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was actually glad what happened Tuesday. He doesn't know what he has in his young team yet so he doesn't want every game to be a blowout. Coach Cal needs to see how his team steps up in tight situations, and Tuesday was the first chance of the season. The Harrison twins did. Ulis didn't.

In addition, UK is going to get its opponents' best game every single night; Ole Miss clearly played inspired basketball. That same Rebels team lost to Charleston Southern, Western Kentucky and Dayton. ESPN's BPI Index still has UK as a clear No. 1 but it now gives the Wildcats a 25 percent chance of winning out the rest of the regular season whereas before Tuesday it was 35 percent.

The SEC is very weak, with Arkansas as the only other ranked team. The next SEC team on the BPI Index after UK is Georgia down at No. 27, with the Razorbacks at No. 28. Kentucky will be a big favorite on NCAA basketball odds Saturday at Texas A&M. The Aggies (9-4) opened SEC play with a 65-44 blowout loss at Alabama on Tuesday. A&M hasn't yet played a ranked team and also lost to Dayton, Baylor and Kansas State. None of those were in College Station, however. Missouri visits Lexington next Tuesday and that will be another double-digit spread for Kentucky at sportsbooks. The next realistic threat for the Cats: Jan. 17 at Alabama.

NCAAB Free Pick: Kentucky will not run the table. It's too young of a team and there will be a game or two where the effort and focus aren't 100 percent.