Midwest Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #2 Kentucky vs. #15 Abilene Christian

Date | AuthorAllen Moody

Last Updated: 2019-03-21

The Thursday night session at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville will see the No. 2 seed, Kentucky, square off against Abilene Christian, who captured the Southland Conference tournament, in a battle of the Wildcats. Kentucky advanced to the tournament as the tournament as an at-large team after falling to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Kentucky opened as 22.5-point favorites and the line is down to 21.5 even with Kentucky getting close to 65% of the wagers in the game. The total has held pretty steady at 132.

Fans of both teams have a bit of a haul to Jacksonville, which is nearly 11 hours from Lexington, Kentucky, and a little more than 17 hours from Abilene, Texas, but Kentucky fans will travel and Florida is also SEC country.

Abilene Christian: Abilene Christian posted a 27-6 record on the season and brings a six-game winning streak into this one, but their competition has been suspect to say the least, as they played just one team ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 150 teams and that ended up being a predictable 82-48 loss at Texas Tech. The team struggled when playing the better teams on their schedule, going 1-4 straight-up against teams in Pomeroy’s top 200, which makes it look like they’re going to have a tough time against No. 7 Kentucky.

The team did dismiss Jalone Friday for disciplinary reasons in February and his 13.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, but have played well since then, knocking off some weaker foes. ACU is a decent shooting team and plays pretty good defense, at least against the level of competition they play.

Kentucky: After a 34-point loss to Duke to begin the season, Kentucky has done what you expect from John Calipari’s teams and that’s win, as the team brings a 27-6 record into this game. Four of their six losses were by four points or less. There are no weak spots on the team, which are in the top 11 of Pomeroy’s numbers offensively and defensively.

Trying to find anything negative to say against Kentucky isn’t easy, but if there is something to worry about, it’s the team’s 2-3 ATS record when favored by 20 or more points and 6-9 ATS mark when favored by double-digits.

Game: Both teams play a bit below the standard pace in NCAA basketball and both teams averaged a few less possessions in their games than their opponents allowed, so this game shouldn’t be a track meet. Abilene Christian would be best served trying to make it as slow of a game as possible, as Kentucky has major advantages on both sides of the ball, but ACU does have a shooter’s chance at staying within the number, as they averaged 38.6% on 3-pointers this season and the closest to a negative Kentucky has is 3-point defense, where they allow 35% to foes who average 34.8%

Pick: Abilene Christian +21.5

Kentucky could probably win this game by as many points as they want, but with a much tougher game on tap Saturday, there’s no reason for them to want to run up the score here and Abilene Christian can play defense a little bit, holding foes to 63.1 points. If ACU can hit a few from long range they can battle to the end, at least from a pointspread perspective.

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