Friday night of Jimmy V Week will be all about the SEC/Big-12 Challenge with two sick matchups. The Florida Gators travel to Phog Allen Fieldhouse to play the Jayhawks. KU is just about unbeatable at home, but UF might be the best program to play KU in a true roadie in the non-conference in a very, very long time. That should be a tremendous game.
But the marquee matchup on the schedule is the center of today’s write-up. The 6th-ranked Texas Longhorns will take on the top-ranked UK Wildcats at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Two the the closest to consensus Final Four teams in the early going will duke it out at 7 PM on ESPN. And, despite the high rank for both sides, the Wildcats are defined double-digit favorites on their home floor.
The Longhorns are on the short list of the very best teams in college basketball. So a double-digit line is this one might seem odd to some. But there are two main reasons why UT faces such an uphill battle on Friday night.
First of all, Isaiah Taylor won’t play. Taylor scored nearly 13 a game last year as a freshman and leads the ‘Horns in scoring early on this year with 15 a game. But a broken wrist will have him out for somewhere in the neighborhood of six weeks. And his impact won’t be easy for Texas to reproduce. While the rest of UT’s deep roster should be able to make up for Taylor’s numerical production, there isn’t quite anyone else in its backcourt that has the playmaking ability that Taylor does. Taylor is Texas’ best offensive player for a second year running because of his ability to create off the dribble, which is a bit of a weakness for Rick Barnes’ squad.
Texas fans should also be a bit concerned about the conditioning of their big men early in the season. Cameron Ridley is super skilled and Myles Turner has all the athletic ability in the world. But each has their set of question marks going up against the rotating platoons of Kentucky. Ridley has battled some weight problems since arriving at Texas and Turner is still just a freshman playing in his first season at a new level. Especially without Taylor, the bigs are crucial to Texas’ success and I’m not sure either will have anything left in the tank when this game gets into the last four, five minutes.
On top of it all, Kentucky seems to be in a league of its own looking down on the rest of the country at this point in the year. At home, this one could get ugly. I’ll lay the points.
Free Pick: Kentucky -10.5
2014 CBB: 4-4-1 +0.60