Kansas-Kentucky Betting Guide: Can Jayhawks Compete Down Low?

Kansas-Kentucky Betting Guide: Can Jayhawks Compete Down Low? article feature image
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USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Devon Dotson and Keldon Johnson

Kansas at Kentucky Betting Odds, Preview

  • Odds: Kentucky -6
  • Over/Under: 144
  • Time: 6 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of 8 a.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and win probabilities on your bets.


Kentucky basketball has 2,280 wins, which is the most in NCAA history. Second? Kansas with 2,264. This will be a matchup of the two most winningest programs in NCAA history.

Kentucky also has the edge head-to-head, owning a 22-9 record over Kansas — although the Jayhawks have won the past three, including the first two Big 12/SEC challenge meetings. That includes a win at Rupp Arena, where Saturday’s game will be played.

You’ll hear a lot about the tremendous Kansas home court advantage at Allen Fieldhouse (and rightfully so), but Kentucky actually has a better record at home since the start of the 2013-14 season.

Here are the top 3:

  • Arizona: 92-5 (94.8%)
  • Kentucky: 94-6 (94%)
  • Kansas: 89-6 (93.7%)

Can the Wildcats improve that mark, or can Kansas play spoiler in a tough environment?

Trends to Know for Kentucky-Kansas

At Kentucky, John Calipari has coached in 16 games either at home or on the road (not neutral court) against a top-10 opponent and the Wildcats are 5-11 against the spread. Calipari is the fourth-least profitable coach in this spot since arriving in Kentucky since 2009.Evan Abrams

Since 2005, Kansas has gone 27-21 straight up and 30-17-1 ATS as an underdog. John Ewing

Kentucky will be playing a second consecutive game at home following a 76-55 win over No. 22 Mississippi State on Tuesday. Historically, it has been profitable to wager on highly-ranked teams playing back-to-back home games.

It’s best if the team won the previous game, its next game is against a non-conference opponent and the opponent hasn’t been dominant against the spread. Check, check, check for Kentucky. Ewing


This will mark the seventh meeting between these two legendary coaches since John Calipari arrived in Lexington. Cal won the first three, but Bill Self has won the past three to even the score. They’ve split national title games, too. Stuckey

Why Kansas Can’t Expose Kentucky’s Weakness

We all knew the Kentucky we saw at the Champions Classic in November wouldn’t be the team we saw later in the season, but the changes are still impressive.

I pay close attention to which teams fit the “past champions profile” that I write about sometimes, and as of today, there are only eight teams that do. Kentucky is now one of them for the first time this season. A meteoric rise, really.

If we look at Kentucky’s results during this current strong run of play, the team really has one weakness: an inability to defend the 3-point line. It hurt them against the Seton Hall, and again against the Crimson Tide — they made 17 three’s against Kentucky, and the Tide usually don’t shoot a great percentage. Those two close losses are the Wildcats’ only two since the Duke thrashing on opening night.

Fortunately, Kansas hasn’t been particularly threatening from deep. The Jayhawks get just 26.5% of their points on 3s, and aren’t in the top 100 in percentage. In that way, a great matchup for the Wildcats. Ken Barkley

When Kansas Has the Ball

Even without the 7-foot-1 Udoka Azubuike, who’s out for the season with a right hand injury, the Jayhawks have still relied on 56.9% of their offense to come inside the arc in conference play — the highest Big 12 percentage. That won’t bode well against the Wildcats, yielding the 23rd-lowest 2-point percentage (45.1%) in the country.

They’ve also let up just 47.6% of their opponents’ scoring to come from that vicinity. Given Kentucky’s size advantage, both Reid Travis and PJ Washington should give Dedric Lawson (19.5 points per game) — a Naismith Player of the Year candidate — issues inside.

John Calipari’s squad is demonizing on the glass as well, collecting the 68th-highest defensive rebounding rate in the country. Kansas’ small-ball lineup won’t be able to hang with Kentucky in that department, allowing the Wildcats to control the pace with their below-average, 191st-ranked Adjusted Tempo (67.8 possessions per 40 minutes).

Within the Jayhawks’ backcourt, Dotson and Vick should have a strenuous time creating space against two of the top on-ball defenders around in Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro, respectively.

The 6-foot-3, 192-pound Hagans has totaled the ninth-highest steal rate (5.1%) in Division I, so with Dotson relying on much of his offense via the dribble drive while turning it over at a 21.9% clip, expect Hagans to limit the fellow freshman to one of his worst performances this season. Eli Hershkovich

When Kentucky Has the Ball

The Wildcats still have a huge size advantage on the interior on the other end of the floor. Shocker. Without the Azuibuike inside for Kansas, the Wildcats will need to create second chances through rebounding. Kentucky is eighth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and is seventh in the nation in average rebounding margin.

Kentucky needs to take advantage of the Jayhawks’ weakness in defending the 3-pointer. In their conference games, the Jayhawks have allowed opponents to shoot 37.9%, which is second-worst in the conference. The key players will be freshmen Keldon Johnson (38.3%) and Herro (36%). Herro has been great his past two games, making six of nine attempts from deep.

Kentucky will want a slower pace than Kansas, as illustrated by their 17.2-second average possession length. The Wildcats will want a half-court game and feed their front-line of Travis, Washington, and Johnson. If both teams get into foul trouble, the advantage is in Kentucky’s favor.

The best aspect of the Kentucky offense is its balance. The Wildcats have four players averaging 12 or more points per game. There has been a different leading scorer in each of their last four SEC wins. Their scoring balance will be a nightmare for Kansas to scheme against. Mike Randle

Barkley’s Bet to Watch

A couple angles that can generally be helpful won’t be of use here. Strength of schedule, even looking backwards, doesn’t separate the teams. Kansas was tested much more outside its conference, but the SEC is so good this year that Kentucky’s been tested too.

And Kansas played a huge part of the early season with Azibuike on the floor. Fatigue also has no place here: Kansas played at home Monday night, and Kentucky played at home the next night.

The one factor separating them, then, is recent play. If you take the total season’s body of work for both teams, using about a 4-point home-court advantage for Rupp Arena, you get something like Kentucky -5 (I got Kentucky -4.97).

When you factor in Kansas pre and post-Azibuike, given their most recent struggles and Kentucky’s play recently, that number expands really, really quickly. Just using conference play numbers, you get Kentucky -15.06, and keep in mind how good the SEC is this year too.

Considering the lack of fatigue/travel/injury mitigating factors to throw this off, I like Kentucky at the current numbers in the game. Barkley

Stuckey’s Bet to Watch

Kansas is 1-3 on the road this season, including bad losses as favorites at West Virginia and at Arizona State. It also got blown out in Ames. The Jayhawks’ one win came against Baylor, which learned right before the game it would be without Tristan Clark for the season. Kansas still almost blew a 23 point lead in a game they got out-rebounded in by an astounding 39-20 margin.

Rebounding could be a major problem for Kansas on Saturday against a Kentucky team that eats the glass as we mentioned above. The Wildcats’ deep frontcourt ranks eighth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and Kansas is just a different team on the block with Azubuike now out for the year.

Dedric Lawson is an animal, but Kansas will have no shot if he gets in early foul trouble. Self is even at times using freshman guard Ochai Agbaji at power forward after Agbaji burned his redshirt.

Kentucky will be able to get so many easy buckets on the offensive end. Can Kansas still compete? Yes, but they will need to hit their 3-pointers (which the Jayhawks are capable of) against a Kentucky team that has struggled to defend the perimeter at times (35.8% or 248th in 3-point field goal percentage allowed), but has been much better of late (31.7% in conference play).

Kansas will need Lawson to hold his own down low (and stay out of foul trouble), get a big shooting night from Vick and company — and get something from Quentin Grimes, who has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. Grimes, a 5-star freshman marred in a terrible slump, recorded one steal and zeroes across the box score in 19 minutes in KU’s last game vs. Iowa State.

That’s a lot to ask for a young team that likely doesn’t have confidence on the road going into Rupp to play a rolling Kentucky team, but this line is definitely inflated based on recent form. If it gets to +7, I’ll have to reluctantly play Kansas small out of principle. If not, it’s likely a pass for me. Stuckey