College Basketball Odds, Picks for Kentucky vs. Kansas (Saturday, January 29)
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images. Pictured: Ochai Agbaji (Kansas)
Kentucky vs. Kansas Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
The marquee matchup of Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge comes between two of the classic blue bloods in college basketball. Kentucky and Kansas will meet for fourth time in the event’s nine year history.
The organizers of the event would probably love for these teams to meet every January, but they are already committed to a regular meeting in November’s Champions Classic (although in 2017, they played each other in both events).
All told, this will be the ninth meeting between the programs since 2011 and the 33rd time overall.
Kentucky leads the all-time series 23-10, but that is heavily skewed to some early wins. The Wildcats won 17 of the first 18 duels with the Jayhawks, but Kansas has taken seven of the last 11 meetings, dating back to 2005.
This will be the eighth time these teams meet with both ranked in the top 12 of the AP Poll since 1998, a fairly frequent occurrence for teams not in the same conference.
Once again, this game will carry massive implications for March. BracketMatrix currently lists KU (that’s Kansas, for the uninitiated) as the top 2 seed and UK as the top 4 seed.
The winner on Saturday will see a major boost to their resume and national profile. Which side should you back?
This is a Kentucky team with national title aspirations. As John Calipari’s team has gelled throughout the season, that has become clear, yet there is still plenty to prove.
Kentucky has played six road or neutral games against KenPom’s top 60 and only won twice. A victory in Lawrence would be a massive swing in Kentucky’s momentum.
The most critical piece of Calipari’s roster has been West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe. In the same way that a dominant edge rusher can wreck a football game, Tshiebwe’s ability to dominate the glass can absolutely upend the flow of a game.
He currently leads the nation in defensive rebounding rate and is second nationally in offensive rebounding rate. Tshiebwe is averaging 15.2 rebounds per game, with a nation-high 303 total rebounds on the season. Second place has just 271 rebounds.
His current rebound per game mark would be the highest in Sports Reference’s database, dating back to 1986.
His dominance on the glass creates extra possessions for Kentucky. Even when Big Blue’s offense isn’t playing its best, those extra trips to the cookie jar add up.
On average, Kentucky is taking more field goals and free throws per game than its opponents. In the scramble after an offensive rebound, the Wildcats hunt for high percentage looks at the rim or from the 3-point arc.
Tshiebwe alone has 32 put-back buckets this season, per Hoop-Math, and shoots 80% around the rim.
Early in the season, Kentucky really needed the extra possessions, as a backcourt made up of Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler and freshman TyTy Washington Jr. needed time to mesh.
Now, that duo is playing like one of the best backcourts in the country. Washington Jr. has missed time due to a rolled ankle, but all indications point to his return against Kansas.
For a team currently sitting in the top five of the polls with just two losses on the year, this season has been quite the puzzle for Bill Self and his Jayhawks.
The rotation on the floor has not been what fans and media members expected entering the season, with Self constantly adjusting on the fly.
Remy Martin arrived in Lawrence as one of the hottest names in the transfer portal, joining the team after scoring over 1700 career points at Arizona State. Martin, though, has ceded his spot in the lineup to sophomore guard Dajuan Harris Jr.
The shuffling at the lead guard spot has been a point of consternation for the Jayhawk faithful.
Since Martin missed time with an injury, he’s seen his playing time diminish. In Kansas’ last three games, Martin has played just 19.3 minutes per game, while shooting 4-of-21 from the field. Harris Jr., in those same three games, has played 33.0 minutes per game and shot marginally better (7-of-25).
There has also been shuffling in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt. Senior big man David McCormack has been a bull on the boards, edging out Tshiebwe for the top offensive rebounding rate in the country.
Despite that, he’s seen his minutes dip from last season and his field goal attempts are way down — from 10.2 shots per game last year to only 6.7 per game this season. His post-up opportunities, which slowed down the Kansas offense last season, are dwindling.
McCormack’s spot in the lineup has been plugged by the reliability of (seemingly) fiftieth-year senior Mitch Lightfoot and freshman KJ Adams Jr., who has provided an athletic spark.
Most of these shifts haven’t mattered because Self’s two best players, Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, have emerged as much better players this year.
Agbaji is on the short list for National Player of the Year honors. He has connected all of the pieces that made him an intriguing player in the past into a puzzle that makes him impossible to guard. His 47% outside shooting draws defenders out, and his ability to slash and score creates nightmares.
Braun, meanwhile, has grown into a new role. He’s attempting fewer jumpers in favor of attacking the paint. His athleticism helps him finish in traffic and his newfound court vision has made him a strong secondary playmaker.
Self will continue to tweak things on the margins, but if Agbaji and Braun continue to play this well, little else matters.
Kentucky vs. Kansas Betting Pick
Obviously this is a fun matchup, but when it’s broken down to its more intricate pieces, it gets even more fun. The brawl in the paint between two of college basketball’s best rebounders is worth your time alone.
While some of the country’s best perimeter players push the pace and tangle in space, McCormack and Tshiebwe will be having a Greco-Roman wrestling match for every available rebound.
Keep a keen eye on how this game is officiated. If there’s a tight whistle, the team that can keep its big man on the floor will have a major leg up.
On the perimeter, there are also fascinating matchups. Kentucky’s strength is its smaller guards — Washington Jr., Wheeler and Davion Mintz — all of whom are shorter than 6-foot-3. The Jayhawks’ best play comes on the wing, with Agbaji and Braun’s length bringing trouble to opposing defenders.
The game could be decided by the other players in each lineup. Can Harris Jr. and Remy Martin hold their own against the Kentucky guards? Can Kentucky’s wings — Kellan Grady and Keion Brooks Jr. — slow down Agbaji and Braun?
At Allen Fieldhouse, you have to favor the Jayhawks’ chances to outperform expectations. Kansas is better prepared to contain Tshiebwe than Kentucky is capable of stopping Agbaji.