With one of the most anticipated non-conference games of the season on tap, Kansas coach Bill Self and his team have been more engrossed with matters off the court that surfaced this week. With several of his players listed as potential witnesses in a reported rape of a 16-year-old girl at the dormitory that houses the top-ranked basketball team, the Jayhawks have understandably been less then focused leading up to their showdown at No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday in the fourth annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
“It’s not a distraction, it’s a major distraction,” Self explained at his weekly press conference Thursday. “Certainly most importantly, I think sometimes in general when you talk about distraction, you look at it how it affects us, but more importantly, there is an obviously very serious alleged allegation that has been made. So that trumps figuring out how to guard (Kentucky’s Malik) Monk or (De’Aaron) Fox, to be real candid with you. When Self’s focus does shift to the court, he’ll remember that the Jayhawks are in the midst of the toughest stretch of the season, having their 18-game winning streak snapped in Tuesday’s 85-69 loss at No. 18 West Virginia and with a game against No. 5 Baylor awaiting on Wednesday. Kansas handled the Mountaineers vaunted press, committing just 13 turnovers, and freshman Josh Jackson matched a season high with 22 points, but Kansas managed to shoot just 42 percent from the floor, 40 percent (6-of-15) from the line while forcing only eight miscues and being outrebounded 39-32. Kentucky also enters on a loss, having fallen 82-80 at Tennessee despite 25 points from standout freshman Malik Monk in a game coach John Calipari called a “great learning experience.”
TV: 6:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
LINE HISTORY: Kentucky opened as 7-point home favorites Friday night but that spread grew to -7.5 Saturday morning. The total opened at 168.5 and has been bet down a full point to 167.5. Check out the complete line history here.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: The Wildcats will test a short handed Kansas squad who just lost Carlton Bragg via suspension. Line movement suggests the impact to be of value as the Wildcats opened as five point favorites. This will be a spot to test the young Wildcats after a letdown loss on the road to Tennessee. – Covers Expert Zack Cimini
Kansas – F Carlton Bragg Jr. (out indefinitely, suspension), C Udoka Azubuike (out for season, wrist)
Kentucky – G Mychal Mulder (early February, illness)
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Kansas (-18.5) – Kentucky (-17.5) + home court (-3.0) = Kentucky -2
ABOUT KANSAS (18-2 SU, 6-12 ATS, 8-10 O/U): Junior guard Devonte’ Graham (16.3 points on 52 percent shooting, 4.8 assists, three 3-pointers per game over his last six games) continued his strong play of late with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, but a recurring cramping issue severely hindered him the last 10 minutes. “We thought we had his cramping stuff under control. Everybody has their own remedy. He’s been seen by the best,” Self said. “We flew people from San Francisco to Hawaii (where Graham was cramping before the season opener against Indiana after experiencing the problem during exhibition play). Senior guard Frank Mason III (Big 12-best 19.9 points, 5.2 assists) scored 15 points in the loss but was limited to 6-of-16 shooting and did not get to the free-throw line for the first time all season.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (17-3 SU, 12-8 ATS, 13-7 O/U): Forward Bam Adebayo scored 21 points and fellow freshman De’Aaron Fox, three nights after hurting his ankle in a victory over South Carolina, added 17 as the Wildcats had their six-game winning streak snapped. Kentucky shot 42 percent from the floor – snapping a streak of seven straight games of at least 50-percent shooting. Monk (21.9 points, 61 3-pointers), Fox (16.2 points, 5.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds) and Adebayo (13.5 points, 6.9 rebounds) are all likely headed to the NBA lottery next season.
* Jayhawks are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games overall.
* Wildcats are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games following a straight up loss.
* Under is 5-0 in Jayhawks last 5 overall.
* Under is 7-1 in Wildcats last 8 vs. Big 12.
* Favorite is 6-0 ATS in the last 6 meetings.
Check out a complete list of hot and cold trends, here.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 64 percent of the picks on Covers are siding with the road underdog Kansas Jayhawks and Over is picking up 54 percent of the totals wagers. View full consensus data here.