2014 College Basketball Picks: Florida @ Kentucky Odds and Predictions – Free College Basketball Picks 2/15/14: The top two teams in the SEC will square off in a top-15 matchup Saturday when the third-ranked Florida Gators (22-2, 11-0 SEC) take on the 14th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (19-5, 9-2 SEC). The Gators are riding a 16-game winning streak heading into the game, and a victory Saturday would give then a commanding three-game lead in the conference. Meanwhile, the Wildcats will be trying to remain undefeated at home while moving within a game of the top spot in the SEC. Playing at home, the Wildcats are 2 ½-point favorites.
Florida’s strong season has been fueled largely by a stingy defense that currently ranks fifth in the country in points allowed. Offensively, Florida doesn’t play at a fast pace and averages just over 71 points per game. However, Casey Prather has blossomed into one of the better scorers in the conference, and Scottie Wilbekin is one of the most experienced point guards in the SEC. Throw in big man Patric Young and sharpshooter Michael Frazier II, and the Gators have plenty of offensive weapons to support their defensive-minded strategy.
The Wildcats are once again relying on a highly-touted group of freshmen to get the job done, and while there have been some bumps in the road, Kentucky is averaging almost 79 points per game and ranks in the top 10 in the country in rebounding. Forward Julius Randle is currently the Wildcats’ leading scorer and has been a double-double machine for a team with four freshmen scoring in double figures. James Young has been the top outside threat while the Aaron and Andrew Harrison have been improving throughout the year. Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein and forward Alex Poythress also see heavy minutes, and Cauley-Stein has been one of the top shot-blockers in the country.
The Gators Win If:
For the Gators to win the game, they have to control the pace of the game from the beginning in order to slow the Kentucky offense and take the home crowd out of the game. Pressuring the Wildcats’ young guards into frequent mistakes and turnovers will go a long way to helping Florida control the tempo, and if Young can control Randle inside by himself, the Gators will be able to ratchet up the pressure on the perimeter even more. Offensively, Florida needs to remain patience and work for quality shots, and even if they Gators aren’t burning up the nets, burning some clock and avoiding quick shots that could lead to Kentucky transition opportunities will still help Florida achieve its ultimate goal of creating a slow, defensive-minded pace to this game.
The Wildcats Win If:
If the Wildcats are going to win the game, they have to force the Gators to play at their pace. Florida is a well-oiled machine that excels in a half-court setting, but if Kentucky turns the game into an up-tempo shootout, the Wildcats’ overall athleticism will be able to shine. Not to mention the fact that a fast-paced game will also keep the crowd more involved, providing some extra energy for the young Wildcats to feed off of. Kentucky has the offensive firepower to win a high-scoring shootout, and as long as the Wildcats make sure Florida’s defense isn’t dictating the action, they should be in good shape.
The Bottom Line:
While there is no doubt that the Gators are the more experienced, more complete team, history says that writing off the Wildcats at home is a big mistakes. Young players are always more comfortable at home, and not surprisingly, Kentucky is undefeated at Rupp Arena this season. In fact, the Wildcats are a ridiculous 81-2 at home since John Calipari became the team’s head coach. Meanwhile, Florida’s only two losses this year have come on the road to ranked opponents, and while those losses were only by a combined seven points, they were losses nonetheless. With the crowd on their side in the comfort of Rupp Arena, the young Wildcats should be able to have the type of solid offensive showing that will allow them to get the better of the defensive-minded Gators.
Prediction: Kentucky Wildcats (-2 ½) Cover the Spread
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