Kentucky vs Providence Odds & Predictions: Bet Friday’s Favorite
Getty Images. Pictured: Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky (left) and Bryce Hopkins of Providence (right).
Kentucky vs Providence Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
There’s a corner of fans convinced that the NCAA is determined to create juicy storylines with early-round matchups.
In reality, when you’re slotting 68 teams into a bracket, with all of the bracketing rules and geographical preferences baked in, you’re bound to uncover a couple of games with big-time narratives attached without even looking for them.
In the case of this clash between the Kentucky Wildcats and Providence Friars, all eyes turn to Bryce Hopkins.
The Friars’ leading scorer has performed at an all-conference level and would be the top name on any opponent’s scouting report. Kentucky head coach John Calipari shouldn’t have to do much research given that Hopkins played for Big Blue last season before hitching a ride in the transfer portal.
Hopkins’ chance for a “revenge” game is the headline, yet there’s plenty more to break down beyond the surface in this matchup.
There may not be a tougher team to get a grasp on this season than Kentucky. Over the Wildcats’ last eight games, Calipari and crew boast five wins over teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament, two of which came on the road.
In that same eight-game span, however, Kentucky lost to Georgia, Vanderbilt and… Vanderbilt again.
The variance can be explained to some degree by Kentucky’s unorthodox style of play. This is a team that shot 3s at the lowest rate in the SEC. The Wildcat defense doesn’t force turnovers and benefited from life in the SEC, the worst 3-point shooting conference in the nation.
If there’s anything this team can reliably do well, it’s attack the glass. That’s par for the course with Oscar Tshiebwe on the roster, yet hardly enough to build an offense around.
If you’re being generous, Kentucky has also been fighting injuries throughout the second half of the season. In total, Calipari has used 12 different starting lineups this season. Compare that to its first-round opponent, Providence, which has used just three starting fives this season.
Hopkins is the star and will get most of the attention in a game where he’s facing his former school, yet Ed Cooley has an experienced roster that’s just as gritty and hard-nosed as his past successful Providence teams.
This is, however, one of Cooley’s best offensive teams in his tenure with the Friars. Providence ranks 16th in offensive efficiency thanks to a collective nose for the paint and contact. The Friars led the Big East in free-throw rate, racking up freebies en route to some of their biggest wins. Providence attempted 35 foul shots in a win over UConn and made 35 more in a double-OT win over Marquette.
Down the stretch, though, this team has hit the skids. Providence hasn’t won a game against anyone but pitiful Georgetown since Feb. 18.
Nearly a month with just one win sounds worse than reality, thanks to long layoffs before and after the Big East Tournament. Still, this team has lost four of its last five and has looked out of sorts. A Senior Day bludgeoning by Seton Hall was an uncharacteristic home loss to end the regular season.
The issues have been primarily on the defensive end. In three of its recent losses, Providence has allowed over 1.3 points per possession due to shoddy rotations and allowing offensive rebounds.
Kentucky vs Providence Betting Pick
Providence has the talent on the perimeter to challenge Kentucky in space. Vanderbilt beat the Wildcats twice in a week by making Tshiebwe cover ball screen after ball screen, drawing him away from the basket.
Jared Bynum is a crafty ball-handler and could cause some problems in the pick-and-roll game, but that’s not Cooley’s style. He uses an old-school flex-style offense that gets Bynum and Hopkins into isolation opportunities. Kentucky has defenders capable of answering the call in isolation, with Tshiebwe then freed up to play help defense and clean the glass.
Most importantly, Tshiebwe is likely too much on the interior for Providence. Ed Croswell is a nice player inside for the Friars but can’t be expected to outduel the reigning National Player of the Year. Turning to 6-foot-11 Clifton Moore is likely just as futile or worse.
Tshiebwe is too much to handle, and Providence hasn’t looked right in a month. If this line snuck up a few more points, maybe I’d see value. But at this number, it’s safest to back the Cats.
Pick: Kentucky -4.5 or Better
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