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Northern Kentucky

vs.

Kentucky

March Madness

Pick

3/17/17

A lot of people are asking if they can trust Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, especially with a rematch against UCLA waiting in the Sweet 16. But while the Wildcats have been far from reliable this season, they come into March Madness having won 11-straight games, with three of those coming against tourney-level competition. Their first game is against in-state Northern Kentucky, which won the Horizon tournament as a 3-seed. The Cats opened as -20 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook, which doesn't surprise anyone.

The Norse played a couple higher-level teams this season and were handled pretty easily in them, losing by 15 points at Illinois and 31 at West Virginia. Kentucky already played two games against Horizon teams and didn't have any issues with them, beating Valparaiso by 24 points when they were actually good (with Alec Peters) and Cleveland State by 31. To make sense of that, NKU is on about the same level as Valpo and barely beat Cleveland State in two meetings.

The main question for the Norse on both ends will be dealing with Edrice Adebayo, who should be in for a huge game against a team that doesn't have anyone listed above 6-foot-7. Adebayo isn't UK's first offensive option, but one has to think he's going to be in for a lot of a work and should be headed for a double-double. Northern Kentucky will probably try and mix things up defensively unless they think Drew McDonald can take him by himself, which is unlikely. McDonald leads the Norse in points (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.7 reb), but he's severely lacking in the athleticism department compared to Adebayo. So while McDonald is a large stretch-five, he could have some trouble working Adebayo in the paint.

But it's not just McDonald that can shoot for the Norse as Cole Murray has taken a ridiculous 244 threes and made 99 of them, while Lavone Holland is around McDonald's level with 55 made. Normally, getting those shots off isn't easy against Kentucky, but its defense has been questionable all season long, which is why they've been in so many close contests. If Murray or Holland can catch fire, the Norse could easily be in range for a cover.

But the other end is a bigger question for Northern Kentucky after having a mediocre defense in the Horizon League. It was already noted that Adebayo should have his way, but Derek Willis could use his size as well, even though he's not a top scorer. Then of course the question becomes how the Norse stop De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe on the perimeter. Simply put, they're not going to and the Wildcats could be headed for 100 points, similar to that early win against Cleveland State. The Norse have some size at two-guard and small forward, but that's about it and with no rim protection, Fox is going to have free range at the hoop the entire game.

If the Norse can hit 10 threes, there's a small chance they'll be able to compete. But there's almost no chance that their defense will be able to handle anything the Cats do, which means to cover this game, Northern Kentucky will likely have to score at least 70 points. That's not out of the question, but that also means McDonald will have to find a way to score on Adebayo or Willis.

Our Pick - Kentucky -20

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