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Kentucky

at

Alabama

College Basketball Pick

2/11/17

Only a couple weeks ago it looked like Kentucky was going to run through the SEC with ease. But that's no longer the case as the Wildcats already have two losses in conference play and have looked susceptible in recent games. And while a loss at Alabama would be surprising, it wouldn't be impossible with how UK has looked.

The Wildcats won their first seven games of conference play and then lost three of their next four. The lone win came in overtime at Rupp Arena against a Georgia team similar to this Alabama one. On the road, the Cats have been far from trustworthy, but do the Crimson Tide stand a chance? Alabama doesn't have any terrible losses this season, but was swept by Auburn and already lost by 13 points to Florida at home. A 20-point win at Georgia stands out among the rest. The reason Alabama has a chance in this game is because of its rebounding.

The Tide actually lead the SEC in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. While their offense is near the bottom of the rankings in almost every category, they at least crash the boards and that's an area Kentucky has had issues in, especially on the defensive end. And it's not just one guy doing all of the heavy lifting. Alabama has three players averaging at least 5.6 boards per game with another at 4.6 per game. They don't have a ton of size, but have depth, which is a reason for that rebounding rate. Bola Olaniyan is averaging less than 15 minutes per game yet almost six rebounds. When he gets more time, the boards go up and that's been the case in SEC play.

The question will be if those same guys can get points on the offensive end. Outside of Edrice Adebayo, the Wildcats have really struggled stopping teams in the paint, which is why they are ninth in the SEC in two-point FG percentage allowed. Alabama freshman Braxton Key will be the biggest key because he's been drawing fouls at a ridiculous rate down low. Key leads the Tide in scoring and has picked up his play in conference games, highlighted by a 26-point, nine-rebound performance in the 20-point win over Georgia. If Key can do that and Alabama can get more out of Riley Norris or one of the other bigs like Donta Hall or Jimmie Taylor, they'll be in this game for most of the way.

Kentucky continues to have issues on the road and there's no reason to think they'll stop in this game. Malik Monk is a great player when he's on, but hasn't been as good on the road. Stopping Monk, De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe will be tough, but Alabama has one of the more efficient defenses in the league so that should help. In addition, 'Bama has the size down low to limit what Adebayo can do in the paint.

Not to say that Alabama is going to win this game, but there will plenty of chances for the Tide to keep this one close until the end. Kentucky will match up either Derek Willis or Wenyen Gabriel with Key and if either one of those guys wins that battle, Alabama will struggle. That said, nothing about Kentucky's defense up to now has led us to believe that they'll dominate this game against a decent Alabama team.

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