Last season the Miami Hurricanes were one of the better teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), and managed a rather magical NCAA tournament run to join their neighbors at Florida Atlantic in the Final Four. Of course, this season will bring a whole new set of challenges, as usual, in the jam-packed ACC.
The Kentucky Wildcats often bring some of the more talented freshmen to Lexington under the artful John Calipari. They were disappointed in themselves with a second-round loss to Providence in the Big Dance.
Kentucky is 5-1 overall, with the only loss coming at the hands of Kansas at the United Center in Chicago. In that game, the Wildcats held a 14-point lead in the second half. They made a dozen triples and had 15 offensive rebounds. But UK shot poorly from inside the arc (just 35%) and Hunter Dickinson (27 points, 23 rebounds) couldn't be stopped.
Miami is currently undefeated, although they have not faced a ranked team. They played nine days ago and beat Kansas State by eight points. Last season they defeated Drake, Indiana, Houston and Texas to get to the Final Four, where a runaway train named UConn routed them 72-59. Jim Larranaga, who had previously led George Mason into a Cinderella Final Four appearance, is in his 13th season on the job.
These teams will meet at the Rupp Arena in Lexington in a 7:30 PM ET start on ESPN. In the college basketball betting odds that have been posted on this game by the folks at BetOnline, the 'Cats are laying points:
Kentucky Wildcats -6
Miami Hurricanes +6
Over 163 points -110
Under 163 points -110
Miami is currently the leading three-point shooting team in all of Division I basketball, making good on 45.8% of their attempts. Swingman Wooga Poplar has been particularly deadly, making 19 of 32 from downtown (59.4%). But Miami takes only 40% of their shots from beyond the arc, so perhaps they need to bomb away more often.
It's not that Kentucky doesn't have some long-range marksmen of its own. Rob Dillingham comes off the bench to hit 50%. Antonio Reeves is hitting 45%. Reed Sheppard, at 67%, has the highest three-point shooting percentage of any player with twenty attempts or more. This team is fourth in the country in three-point shooting, not far behind the 'Canes at 42.5% overall.
Maybe a difference worth noting is that Miami has been a tougher defensive challenge for its opponents form the outside, holding them to just 26.8% from three-point range.
There are four freshmen in the basic rotation for the 'Cats, and Calipari, as usual, has done a very good job of blending them together in a short period of time. Nobody, and we mean NOBODY, has taken care of the ball like they have, evidenced by a turnover rate of 10.8%, which is the lowest in the nation.
Freshman DJ Wagner, the son of DaJuan Wagner and grandson of Milt Wagner, received some ballyhoo and has experienced his ups and downs. He had just four points and two assists against Kansas, but he has exploded for 50 points over the last two games.
Wagner was one of the very top frosh prospects to come into NCAA ball this year, so we expect that he will be on the ascent. And the same goes for the Kentucky program in general. The Wildcats don't have to worry about imposing size as they did against Kansas, and they possess more depth. So we'll make the call for them at home.
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