Franklin: What Reid Travis’ Return Means for Kentucky, its Bettors in SEC Tournament

Mar 15, 2019 6:28 PM EDT
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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Reid Travis

  • Kentucky forward Reid Travis (knee) will return on Friday night for the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Alabama.
  • UK is 0-4 against the spread in his absence.
  • Drew Franklin breaks down what Travis' return means, and how it might affect Kentucky Friday and throughout the SEC Tournament.

Duke’s Zion Williamson made his highly-anticipated return with an insane performance Thursday night, but he is not the only college basketball star to come back from injury this week. Kentucky’s Reid Travis is all set to make his return Friday night when UK begins its postseason run in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Alabama (7 p.m. ET, SEC Network).

Travis is unlikely to impact the game in the incredibly apparent ways Williamson did, but bettors should consider his importance to the Wildcats’ success.

Since Travis went down with a knee sprain on Feb. 19, Kentucky hasn’t been the same team. Reserve big men Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery played well in his absence, but neither player can provide the physicality or veteran leadership Travis brought with him to Lexington in his one season as a grad transfer.

“His consistency of play is amazing,” John Calipari said after the Cats dropped a game to Tennessee without Travis. “Reid is going to give you what he gives you every minute he’s on the floor. So you miss that consistency.”

The only consistency Kentucky had with Travis out was its consistent inability to cover the spread. Kentucky closed out the regular season with an 0-4 record ATS; prior to Travis going down at Missouri, Kentucky had gone 8-1-1 ATS in 10 games.

So will Travis get the Cats back on the cover train Friday night? Kentucky opened as a 10.5-point favorite against Alabama, one of only three teams in the conference to beat the Cats this year. UK will be out for revenge on the Crimson Tide, but I don’t expect Travis will play a major role in the rematch, not after Calipari said Travis will only play in short bursts in his first game back.

I think you’ll really see his effect on the game on Saturday when Kentucky meets Tennessee in the semifinals, assuming both teams handle their quarterfinal business as big favorites. That will be the rubber match between the two tournament favorites. Kentucky won the first meeting by 17 with Travis on the floor; Tennessee won the second game by 19 with Travis in street clothes.

With Travis back to full speed for Saturday’s game, we’re in for a war inside the paint. Travis was pivotal in containing SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams in the game Kentucky won, holding him to only four shot attempts. In the game in Knoxville, Williams had his way with the Travis-less frontcourt, scoring 24 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field. Williams really thrived without Travis there to bully him around.

If they both advance to Saturday to set up that third meeting, I think Travis will be the difference maker in a game that could go off as a pick ‘em.

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