The nightcap of Tuesday’s Champions Classic features the no. 7 Kansas Jayhawks taking on the no. 20 Kentucky Wildcats. The current odds list the Jayhawks as 3.5-point favorites over the Wildcats on a neutral court in Indianapolis. Tipoff is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET
The Wildcats are making the trip to Indy fresh off a loss on Sunday to Richmond, causing them to plummet in the polls. Kentucky held a 32-28 halftime lead, only to be outscored by 16 points in the second half, ultimately losing 76-64. On the bright side, the Cats dominated in-state foe Morehead State 81-45 in their season opener.
Likewise, Kansas also heads to Indianapolis at 1-1. However, the Jayhawks suffered their only loss of the season against top-ranked Gonzaga in a game that remained competitive until the end. Kansas also responded the next day with a convincing 94-72 win over St. Joseph’s.
Braun over Brains
The first two games of the season haven’t exactly played out as expected for Bill Self’s team. The leading scorer after two games is sophomore Christian Braun. He’s made seven of his 11 shots from the three-point line over two games and scored 30 points against St. Joseph’s. Junior Ochai Agbaji has also stepped into a lead role, scoring 17 points against Gonzaga and 18 points against St. Joseph’s. Of course, the Jayhawks are likely to look to Marcus Garrett against Kentucky. Garrett is expected to be the main man on Kansas this year, and he showed why with his 22-point performance against Gonzaga.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, they haven’t answered their biggest preseason question, which is the frontcourt. Outside of David McCormack, Kansas doesn’t have much size and depth in the paint. That was an obvious problem against Gonzaga, as the Bulldogs out-rebounded the Jayhawks and had two frontcourt players score over 20 points. McCormack is also fighting through a knee injury, which could hinder his performance on Tuesday.
It’s not all that surprising that Kentucky lost to Richmond when you consider that the Wildcats committed 21 turnovers compared to Richmond’s 10. Even against Morehead State, the Wildcats threw the ball away 15 times. Not only did the Wildcats turn it over at a high rate, but they finished the game against Richmond with just five assists. John Calipari needs to find better point guard play as soon as possible, especially since Kansas has strong backcourt defensive players.
The good news for Kentucky is that they dominated the boards against Richmond, as both Brandon Boston and Olivier Sarr finished with double-doubles. Sarr, a grad transfer from Wake Forest, will be critical to exposing the lack of depth in the Kansas frontcourt. Of course, the Jayhawks will try to keep the Cats out of the paint and force them to shoot jump shots, as Kentucky is 6 for 26 (23%) from the perimeter through two games.
If the Kentucky backcourt couldn’t handle Richmond without turning it over 20-plus times, the Kansas backcourt will likely give them fits. Kentucky’s rebounding and interior scoring should keep them in the game. But superior guard play from the Jayhawks should be the difference in the game. Bet on Kansas to win and cover on Tuesday.
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