Missouri remains on the NCAA Tournament bubble, especially after winning at Alabama on Wednesday. The Tigers were struggling, but managed to upset the Tide on the road and will try and do the same against Kentucky, although this time at home. While the Wildcats aren’t as dominant as they’ve been in recent seasons, they still have a talented squad that picked up a big win at West Virginia over the weekend.
The road has been where UK has had most of its troubles with losses at Tennessee and South Carolina standing out. While the Cats have a winning road record, none of them have come easy and that should be the case here. The Tigers are in desperate need of a win and already beat Georgia and Tennessee in Columbia. Of course, they’ve also been sMACked around in their last few (prior to Alabama) and lost 91-73 at home to Auburn only a week ago.
Missouri ranks near the bottom in the SEC in most statistical categories and that explains its record in the conference. OUtside of free-throw percentage and defensive rebounding, the Tigers are in the bottom half of most stats in the SEC. That includes turning it over on 21 percent of every possession and shooting 47 percent from two-point range. This probably won’t be the Game to change those stats, but it could get ugly at times on both sides of the cOurt, which should help Missouri.
The Wildcats are by no means a pretty team as most of their best numbers are on the defensive end, limiting SEC teams to 24.5 percent behind the arc. That doesn’t help Missouri much as its two best scorers, Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett, get most of their points from three-point range, shooting better than 42 percent. If those guys aren’t hitting shots, it could be a long day because no one else on the team averages 10 points per Game. That’s where the frontcOurt needs to help out between Kevin Puryear, Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon. While the Tigers don’t have a great shooting percentage inside the arc, it’s in their best interest to attack in the paint because that’s where Kentucky struggles defensively.
The problem is that Kentucky matches up well at every position. Kevin Knox and PJ Washington have the size and athleticism to deal with someone like Robertson or Barnett on the perimeter or Puryear in the paint. There’s also a problem of dealing with UK’s point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s firmly entrenched in that role with Quade Green looking to get his spot back. The size of Gilgeous-Alexander on the perimeter is a problem for most teams and that will probably be the case again and the same goes for Hamidou Diallo, although he rarely takes advantage of it.
All signs point to this being a close and ugly Game with Missouri doing everything it can to get another big win. However, the talent of someone like Knox will be hard to stop, especially if he takes over like he did in the West Virginia Game (34 points). Knox provides size, shooting and quickness that not many guys at 6-foot-9 have. If Knox can get going, UK has the edge. If not, then anything can happen as seen in Kentucky’s lucky win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
Our Pick – Kentucky +2