SEC Showdown: Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Published on Feb. 10 at 7:45 p.m. Eastern.
By Brian Edwards
At long last, John Calipari might have the team to win him his first national title.
As we all know, in a one-game scenario in March, anybody can go down on a given night. But in my opinion, UK made it clear that it is the team to beat when it trounced Florida by a 78-58 count Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
The oddsmakers concur, as Bovada.com has the Wildcats listed as the 7/2 ‘chalk (+350) to cut down the nets in New Orleans.
Coming off Tuesday’s statement-like performance against the Gators, UK has another chance to prove its legitimacy Saturday night when it travels to Memorial Gymnasium to take on Vandy at one of the nation’s most unique and difficult venues.
BetOnline.com opened Kentucky (24-1 straight up, 9-14-1 against the spread) as a 4 ½-point favorite with a total of 135.
Vanderbilt (17-7 SU, 10-10 ATS) lost back-to-back games at Arkansas and at Florida last week, but the Commodores responded by beating up on LSU 76-61 in Nashville on Wednesday night. They took the cash as 11-point home favorites.
Festus Ezeli made 8-of-10 shots en route to scoring a game-high 21 points. Jeffery Taylor chipped in with 19 points and six rebounds, while John Jenkins finished with 20 points.
Thanks to the physical presences of Ezeli and senior power forward Steve Tchiengang, Vandy is probably the SEC’s most formidable matchup for Kentucky. (Translation: UK is a horrible matchup for UF because the Gators’ only weakness is their lack of depth and muscle in the lane.)
Kevin Stallings’ team has had some uncharacteristic hiccups at home this year, losing outright four times in 15 games while posting a mediocre 4-7 spread record. But we should note that Vandy has beaten UK in five of the last six head-to-head meetings at Memorial Gymnasium in Music City.
After going through an atrocious 0-13-1 ATS slide that saw Kentucky fail to cover for two months, it has righted the ship for our purposes. The ‘Cats have taken the money in five straight games and six of their last seven. They have won their last four games by margins of 20, 34, 25 and 24 points.
Freshman center Anthony Davis has been the catalyst. He’s long and lean with incredible explosiveness. His presence in the paint defensively shows up in the box score in that he leads the nation in blocked shots, but that doesn’t even accurately explain the impact he has. He changes many shots and some players don’t even think about going inside to try him.
In the win over UF, Davis produced 16 points, six rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals. Doron Lamb added 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Marquis Teague finished with 12 points and 10 assists.
Kentucky has only been a single-digit favorite five times, going 2-3 ATS. The ‘Cats have been single-digit home ‘chalk’ just twice, failing to cover in a one-point win over North Carolina. They covered the spread in the aforementioned win over UF as nine-point favorites.
Vandy has been an underdog four times, compiling a 3-1 spread record with a pair of outright wins at Alabama and at Marquette. This is the first home ‘dog spot for the ‘Dores.
The ‘under’ is 11-9 overall for Vandy, 6-5 in its home games. However, the ‘over’ has hit in six of the Commdores’ last eight games. Meanwhile, the ‘under’ has cashed at a lucrative 15-8-1 overall clip for UK.
ESPN will have the telecast at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
–As of Thursday night, Bovada had Ohio St. with the second-shortest future odds at 9/2 (+450). The Buckeyes are followed by North Carolina (11/2, +550), Syracuse (6/1), Duke (10/1), Kansas (10/1) and Missouri (12/1).
–Cecil Hurt, who has covered Alabama sports for decades, tweeted Friday that Crimson Tide junior forward Tony Mitchell will remain suspended for Saturday’s game at LSU. ‘Bama destroyed Auburn on The Plains earlier this week less than 24 hours after Mitchell was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. As of early Friday evening, most books had the Tide as a two-point road favorite.
–Gary Parrish of CBS Sports has predicted that Vandy will upset Kentucky on Saturday night and then the ‘Cats will win out and capture the national title.
–After rallying to win at UNC on a buzzer beater by Austin Rivers on Wednesday, Duke is in a classic letdown spot Saturday when it hosts Maryland at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. As of early Friday night, most spots had the Blue Devils installed as 15 ½-point favorites. The Terrapins have covered the number in four consecutive games.
–The ‘over’ is 16-8 overall for Duke, 9-3 in its home games. The total for Maryland-Duke is 152 ½.
–Most books have Missouri as a six-point home favorite vs. Baylor. This game will come off the board at 1:45 p.m. Eastern.
–UNC will try to bounce back from Wednesday’s gut-wrenching defeat when it hosts Virginia at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on The ACC Network. Most spots had the Heels favored by 10 as of early Friday night.
–Florida will be in revenge and bounce-back mode Saturday at home vs. Tennessee. The Gators are off a blowout loss at Kentucky and they also got beat in Knoxville earlier this year. UF is a 12 ½-point home favorite vs. the Volunteers, who covered the spread in Wednesday’s home win over South Carolina.