Pick with Analysis
Kentucky has been on one of the better runs in the country winning its last seven Games and it has a chance to further scare everyone in the Conference if it can win at Florida. The Gators aren’t the best team, but they find themselves in a precarious position at 12-8. They’re coming off an overtime win against an Ole Miss team that has dropped off, but also follow this Game with Four of their next five on the road against some of the best teams in the conference. In other words, if Florida loses this Game, there’s a chance it could lose five of six Games and have a 13-13 record.
That seems like a long shot, but it’s definitely in the cards and something to think about before betting this Game. Kentucky is playing well and feeling great about itself, while Florida knows it has to win the rest of its home Games, especially this one if it wants to eventually lock itself into the NCAA Tournament.
The problem is that the Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season and it may not matter. They are coming off a 35-point demolition at Vanderbilt, but also beat Kansas in the Game prior and handled Miss. State before that. Everything is working for the Wildcats and the Gators just gave up 86 points in overtime and undoubtedly have to play better than that. Oddly, the Gators rank 10th in the country in terms of defensive efficiency yet don’t have a ton of positive numbers in the SEC outside of forcing turnovers and that’s something Kentucky has been better about with Ashton Hagans at point guard.
The Cats are getting a variety of production from a balanced lineup, whether that’s PJ Washington (13.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Reid Travis (12.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) down low or Keldon Johnson (14.4 ppg), Tyler Herro (13.3 ppg) and Hagans on the perimeter. That five-man lineup has not only gelled offensively, but it also ranks as the most-deficient defense in the conference. Florida isn’t a good rebounding team and will have issues dealing with both Washington and Travis in the paint. Kevarrius Hayes can hold his own, but they don’t exactly have another guy to mark up a big man. With Hayes likely on Washington, Travis will be the guy to take advantage like he did against Kansas last weekend with 18 points and 12 boards.
Florida has a similarly built team to Kansas, yet maybe less efficient offensively. The Gators have already lost two home Games in SEC play (South Carolina, Tennessee) and all signs point to another in this Game. With only two guys that average more than 7.3 points per Game, it’s hard to see them overcoming this defense. Even if leading scorers KeVaughn Allen (13.2 ppg) and Noah Locke (11.7 ppg) combine for 40 points, they still need production from guys that have been inconsistent all season, namely Jalen Hudson who is no longer a factor at 6.2 points per Game.
The Gators need added production outside of their top two scorers, but also need to stop the combo of Washington and Travis down low, in addition to Hagans running the show. Only then Florida will have a chance to win, but in an almost must-win situation, desperation is never something to overlook.
Our Pick – Florida +3.5