College basketball is back and what better way for handicappers to get into the swing of things once again than a marquee NCAAB matchup featuring powerhouses Kansas and Kentucky?
According to the early polls, this is nothing less than a No. 1 (Kentucky)-vs.-No. 5 (Kansas) mid-November showdown, and it will tip off in Indianapolis and before an ESPN national television audience beginning around 9 pm Eastern, or about 30 minutes after the Duke-Michigan State matchup.
The sportsbooks had the NCAAB odds for this one had the top-rated Wildcats as -3 for openers, and that number rose to -5.5 for John Calipari's squad by Monday evening. Let's take a look at what you'll remember about both of these teams from last year's tournament runs, as well as the new faces in their lineups.
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To say the Wildcats are loaded is an understatement, as Calipari has nine McDonald's All-Americans to work with -- more than many conferences, let alone individual teams. At 2-0 SU/1-1 ATS, they already have manhandled Grand Canyon University (+30.5 points) by 40 points, and bested Buffalo 71-52 while not covering a 32.5-point spread.
The sophomore Harrison brothers -- Andrew at the point and Aaron as the shooting guard -- are back as the backcourt starters. Strong forward/NBA-talent Alex Poythress and C Willie Cauley-Stein also are back, easing the loss of Julius Randle.
Along with freshman PF Karl-Anthony Towns and sophomore reserves Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson, that frontline should help push the Cats near the top spot in the country in offensive rebounding.
Towns' stay in Lexington could be brief, as he is a 7-foot, 250-pounder with 3-point range. Three more McDonald's All-Americans are among the freshman class: 5'9 PG Tyler Ulis, PF Trey Lyles and SG Devin Booker.
The Wildcats also should be primed for early success by Calipari, keeping in mind that they lost to Michigan State in their third game last season, and also suffered two more defeats before the SEC season began.
The questions this season appear to be distribution of playing time, team cohesion, defense and three-point shooting. How many of those come together likely will determine how deep the Wildcats go in March and how they will perform against the college basketball odds.
The Kansas Jayhawks have talent to make up for two big losses Bill Self's squad opened with an unimpressive 69-59 win over UC-Santa Barbara, shooting 41% while not covering a 16.5-point spread in Allen Fieldhouse. They also turned it over 16 times while tallying only 11 assists.
With Andrew Wiggins in the NBA, 6-5 G Wayne Selden Jr. should get a chance to shine offensively. He put up 10 points in 32 minutes against UCSB. 6-8 Forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Taylor both grabbed 10 rebounds in the opener. G Devonte Graham came off the bench with a team-leading 14 points and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes -- 9 more minutes than starter Brannen Greene.
The jewel of a highly regarded freshman class is Cliff Alexander, a 6-8, 240-pounder from Chicago who was picked as the co-Big 12 preseason freshman of the year by conference head coaches. He'll be counted on as time goes on to play a key role in the middle in Joel Embiid's absence.
Alexander had 9 points and 4 rebounds in 12 minutes in the opener. Transfer C Hunter Mickelson -- the tallest player on the roster with Landen Lucas at 6-10 -- also eventually could have an impact.
The point guard position lost some depth with the departure of 2013-14 contributor Conner Frankamp, who is considering transfers to Colorado and Wichita State, according to published reports.
These teams met in the 2012 national championship and in a similar circumstance as to this year in November of 2011 and Kentucky won and covered both times. With Wildcats boasting better guard play and having all the big guys to protect rim, for this College Basketball pick I’ll back Kentucky.
Free College Basketball Pick: Kentucky at BetOnline