After winning the SEC Tournament, Kentucky was rewarded with a Game against another Tournament winner from the Atlantic 10 in Davidson. It’s an unlucky draw for the Wildcats from Lexington, who were favored by just -6 points at 5Dimes Sportsbook early in the week.
Both of these teams went through growing pains in the middle of the season, but both came out better and that led to Conference Tournament titles. Davidson struggled early and lost to teams like Hawaii and Appalachian State, but then ended the season winning eight of nine Games, which includedtwo wins over Rhode Island and another over St. Bonaventure.
It was a similar finish for Kentucky, which won seven of its last eight with five of those coming against Tournament teams. Looking at stats from the entire season isn’t a great barometer for these teams considering the changes they’ve gone through, but it’s worthwhile to take a peek at them. Most interesting may be that Kentucky is only favored by three points at KenPom, a site that a lot of bookmakers use to set lines.
In a battle of Wildcats, Davidson’s offense stands out led by the handy work of head coach Bob McKillop. This team often has one of the better offenses in the nation and its adjusted efficiency of 18th in the country shows that in addition to an effective field goal percentage of 57.7%, which is 11th. Conveniently for Kentucky, it ranks well in most defensive categories and has been one of the best in the country at defending the three all season. The interesting stat comes on the other end because while UK doesn’t stack up well on the season, its offense has improved greatly in the last month.
Before betting this Game, it may be worth it to check Jarred Vanderbilt’s status, who missed the SEC Tournament to injury. While he’s not an extremely important player, he did have a bigger role late in the season. Surprisingly, Davidson matches up fairly well at most positions. The length of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a problem for most teams, but Davidson at least has bigger guards in Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady on the perimeter. Peyton Aldridge and KiShawn Pritchett also have the size to deal with Kevin Knox, Wenyen Gabriel and PJ Washington.
Kentucky often wins Games by simply being longer and taller than opponents, but that may not be a huge edge in this Game. Of course, Davidson may still have a problem of finding open looks against this defense. Davidson’s entire Game is based off its offensive sets that McKillop runs, but throw the lengthy Gilgeous-Alexander on the perimeter to go with guys like Gabriel and Knox with arms up in front of Aldridge and the shots they’ve hit for the past two months may not be falling. Almost every player on Davidson is a shooter, but Kentucky has the athleticism at every position to deal with guys that stretch the floor.
On the other end, it may not be possible to stop Gilgeous-Alexander, who was a completely different player by the end of the season and finished with 29 points, seven boards and three assists in the SEC Tourney title Game. The Wildcats just dealt with Rhode Island, but EC Matthews still got plenty of open looks against them and Gilgeous-Alexander should be able to match that. It doesn’t help Aldridge that he’ll have to work extra hard on the defensive end against players like Knox and Gabriel.
The x-factor for Davidson could end up being freshman Kellen Grady, who could be a future NBA player and was a top-100 recruit. He could have some matchup advantages against Quade Green and Hamidou Diallo. Davidson will definitely put up a fight in this Game, but it’ll be hard to bet against Kentucky with the way it’s playing.
Our Pick – Kentucky -5.5