Missouri at Kentucky

Published on Friday, 2/22/13, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

**Missouri at Kentucky**

–As of early Friday night, most books had Kentucky (18-8 straight up, 8-15 against the spread) as a 1.5-point home favorite.

–Kentucky has lost four in a row ATS and owns an abysmal 3-10 spread record in its last 13 games. The Wildcats have only covered the spread in one of their six SEC home outings at Rupp Arena.

–John Calipari’s team is going into its third game without freshman sensation Nerlens Noel, who went down for the season after suffering a torn ACL in a loss at Florida. Noel was leading the ‘Cats in rebounding (9.4 per game), field-goal percentage (59.0%), steals (2.1 SPG) and blocked shots (4.4 BPG).

–In Kentucky’s first game without Noel, it took the worst beating of Cal’s tenure in an 88-58 loss at Tennessee. Calipari had not tasted defeat so decisively since his first season as a head coach in 1989.

–UK staved off Vanderbilt’s upset bid at Rupp on Tuesday, capturing a 74-70 win as an 11-point home favorite. The Commodores sliced what was once a 13-point deficit to 61-59 with 3:57 remaining. But Kentucky avoided more embarrassment thanks to the play of Willie Cauley-Stein, who finished with a career-high 20 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Archie Goodwin added 16 points and six boards.

–Missouri (19-7 SU, 11-11 ATS) is coming off its best effort of the season, rallying from a 13-point second-half deficit to win a 63-60 decision over Florida as a five-point home underdog. The Tigers hooked up money-line supporters with a payout in the plus-185 range (risk $100 to win $185). Laurence Bowers, who missed the first meeting against the Gators, a blowout loss in Gainesville, came up big at crunch time en route to a 17-point, 10-rebound effort. Phil Pressey finished with seven points, 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals, while Jabari Brown had 12 points and drained three long jumpers from deep.

–As of early Friday morning, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Kentucky among his ‘first four teams out’ of the NCAA Tournament field. UK has an RPI of 48 and has zero wins over the RPI Top 50. The Wildcats’ best win is at Ole Miss (RPI: 57).

–UK has won 13 of its 15 home games, posting a mediocre 5-7 spread record.

–Missouri is 1-2 ATS in three true road games as an underdog and we should mention that Bowers was absent in both non-covers at Ole Miss and at Florida.

–Frank Haith’s squad is 3-3 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Florida, Illinois and VCU. The Tigers, who are 33rd in the RPI, are 8-6 against the RPI Top 100.

–Although Missouri has seen the ‘under’ cash in three straight games, the ‘over’ is still 11-7 overall. The ‘under’ is 4-3 in the Tigers’ seven true road assignments.

–The ‘over’ is 12-10 overall for UK, 6-5 in its 11 home games with a total.

–Tip-off is scheduled for Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Two of the nation’s best players will be on display in Saturday’s BracketBuster matchup between Murray St. and South Dakota St. The Jackrabbits have a star in senior guard Nate Wolters, who averages 23.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Wolters is shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and making 41.4 percent of his attempt from deep. The Racers are led by senior guard Isaiah Canaan, who averages 21.2 points and 4.2 assists per contest. This game will be played in Murray, KY., on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Most spots opened Murray St. as a three-point ‘chalk.’

–D.J. Cooper will lead Ohio into Nashville to face Belmont in another intriguing BracketBuster showdown. Tip-off is slated for 10:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. The Bruins are 29th in the RPI Rankings with a 6-3 record against RPI Top 100 foes. The Bobcats, who advanced to the Sweet 16 last season before losing to North Carolina in overtime, have an RPI of 75 with only one Top 100 win over Richmond.

–I like Georgetown as a seven-point underdog at Syracuse. The Hoyas have won eight in a row and 10 of their last 11 both SU and ATS.

–Florida will host Arkansas in a revenge game Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPNU. SportsBetting.com opened Billy Donovan’s team as an 18-point home ‘chalk.’ The Razorbacks thumped the Gators at Bud Walton Arena a few weeks ago. UF will be in bounce-back mode after letting a double-digit second-half lead slip away Tuesday night at Missouri. The loss was eerily similar to defeats against Butler and Louisville in the last two Elite Eights. In other words, the Gators let a comfortable advantage get away when their jump shots went ice cold at crunch time. It’s easy for critics to say “Florida will die by jumpers” in the NCAA Tournament, but what do those same critics suggest from a strategic standpoint? Patric Young is UF’s only low-post threat but you can’t give him the ball down low in the last two minutes of one-possession games because he is an abysmal free-throw shooter. And Scottie Wilbekin has demonstrated a propensity to miss the front ends of one-and-one’s in losses at Arizona and at Missouri. Therefore, I won’t be critical of Kenny Boynton’s shot selection in Columbia on Tuesday night. If I’m Billy D, I’ll ‘live or die’ with those looks and the Gators have ‘lived’ a lot more than they have ‘died’ during Boynton’s outstanding career.

–Florida reserve forward Casey Prather has knocked down 17-of-23 shots (73.9%) from the field in the team’s last four games.

–Mark Fox’s Georgia squad can’t buy a break. The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker in overtime at Ole Miss last Saturday when they didn’t get a call at the end of regulation. Then Thursday night in Fayetteville, UGA dropped a 62-60 decision at Arkansas when B.J. Young scored the go-ahead basket with six seconds remaining. The Bulldogs missed a good look at a potential tying bucket at the buzzer. Replays showed that Young’s foot appeared to hit the ground before he launched his winning shot. Alas, a travel was not called and UGA lost a third straight game. However, you won’t find UGA gambling supporters complaining, as it easily took the cash as an 11-point underdog. Georgia is now 7-1 ATS in its last eight games. The Dawgs play South Carolina on Saturday at home in Athens.

–With last night’s loss at Saint Mary’s, it’s clear that BYU will have to win the WCC Tournament to get to the Big Dance.

–I have a 60-45 NBA record (57%) this season with these three picks going tonight.

Click this link to go to VegasInsider.com for my take on Creighton at Saint Mary’s.

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