#10 Kentucky at LSU – Preview & Prediction 2/18/20
Spread: LSU -2.5
8pm Central – Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, LA
#10 Kentucky Wildcats (20-5, 10-2)
We venture outside of the familiar confines of the ACC tonight to preview a huge showdown in the SEC featuring two of the league’s top teams. The SEC-leading Kentucky Wildcats are looking to expand their one-game lead over Auburn and LSU with a win tonight. The Cats have won four straight, but they’ve struggled away from home this season, suffering conference road losses at South Carolina and Auburn. Tonight’s game in Baton Rouge will be their toughest challenge since losing in Auburn on the first of this month. Kentucky’s back in the top-10 for the first time since mid-December, and they’ll need a win tonight in order to stay there.
The Cats are led by four players with NBA potential: junior Nick Richards, sophomores Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, and freshman Tyrese Maxey. Richards has been a welcomed surprise for Head Coach John Calipari and his staff, as the big man has set new career highs in almost all categories. Richards averages 14.6 PPG and 8.2 RPG, while giving UK 30+ minutes a night. Foul trouble has been the only thing to really slow him down in recent weeks, and the Cats will need a big night from him on the glass to keep LSU off the offensive boards—something the Tigers pride themselves on. Elsewhere, Quickley has been a revelation from deep this year (43 for 111, good for 38.7%), and he’s Kentucky’s most consistent deep threat, along with role player graduate transfer Nate Sestina. The guy Kentucky really needs to get going tonight is Hagans, who is a combined 0 for his last 8 from downtown in the last four games and has seen his shooting stats, PPG, and APG all decline during the month of February. If he can see a few shots go through the net early tonight and as avoid picking up cheap fouls—Hagans has somehow managed to foul out of four games in the last five weeks—Kentucky should put themselves in a position to win tonight. Look for Calipari to get Hagans involved early in hopes of breaking him out of his recent funk.
LSU Tigers (18-7, 9-3)
LSU had been in the top-25 for three weeks until now. Saturday’s loss at Alabama—the Tigers’ third loss in their last four games—knocked them out of the rankings, though. They desperately need to win tonight’s game to keep from slipping further down the standings in the SEC and maintain their regular season conference title hopes. Fortunately for the Tigers, they return home, where they’re 13-1 on the season (6-0 in conference).
LSU relies heavily on their offense, as they rank third in the NCAA (first in the SEC) in adjusted offensive efficiency, but just 174th in the nation in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. All five starters average double figures. The Tigers don’t shoot the ball particularly well from deep, and thus don’t take many threes, but they do their best work in the lane and from the free throw line. They’re top-20 in the country in 2-point field goal percentage (55.7%) and free throw percentage (77.4%), as well as offensive rebound percentage (the Tigers rebound 35.6% of their misses—good for 13th in the country). They’re aggressive on offense, and Kentucky’s frontline of Richards, Sestina, sophomore EJ Montgomery, and freshman Keion Brooks Jr. will face a relentless attack from LSU’s dynamic big men. LSU freshman standout Trendon Watford (13.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG) and sophomores Emmitt Williams (13.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Darius Days (11.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG) combine to create a three-headed attack in the front court. Meanwhile, the backcourt is run by a pair of experienced guards featuring senior team leader Skylar Mays (16.5 PPG, 37.4% from three) and sophomore Javonte Smart (12.5 PPG), who averaged nearly 30 minutes a night during his freshman season last year.
Tonight is a huge game for the Tigers, especially given how they’ve been trending in the past two weeks. LSU is 6-8 ATS in the Maravich Center this year and has hit the under in 8 of their 14 true home games. Kentucky, meanwhile, struggled in their toughest road game at Auburn earlier this year but is 5-2 ATS in true road games. They’ve hit the over in 5 of those 7 games.
I think the way these two teams matchup means each could cause some offensive problems for the other, and I don’t feel great about Hagans trying to regain his form in a road game in Baton Rouge. LSU is going to try to make Kentucky beat them from outside, and if the Tigers can cover Quickley, they have a good shot of containing the UK offense. This is also a classic “backs against the wall” game for LSU, and I think they’ll play with renewed energy on their home court. Take UNDER 150.5 & LSU -2.5 tonight.