One of the best early-season college basketball events is here, with the Champions Classic set to take place tonight. The back half of the exciting double header features the number one team in the country, Kansas Jayhawks, taking on a young Kentucky Wildcats team. Kansas walked away as winners when these two teams met last season, and I’m expecting their experienced roster to build a nice lead by halftime.
The Kansas Jayhawks have not played the most daunting schedule through their first two games of the season, but they have still shown why they rank 8th on KenPom in adjusted offensive rating. Bill Self’s squad has scored 99 points in each of their games up to this point, as they currently lead the country in effective field goal percentage (72%) and average assists per game (29.5).
With how the Jayhawks roster is assembled, their offense can attack teams from inside the paint and beyond the arc. Between transfers Hunter Dickinson and Parker Braun, playing alongside KJ Adams Jr., the Jayhawks are 3rd in two-point shooting percentage (73%). Those big men are complemented nicely on the outside by Kevin McCullar Jr., shooting 41.7% from deep, and freshman Johnny Furphy, shooting 45.5% from three.
Thanks to the transfer portal, the Jayhawks have impressive depth this season, while their opponent tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats, doesn’t have that same luxury. Kentucky is still waiting on two of their big men, Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Oynenso, to return from injury, so the Wildcats are very thin down low, putting a lot of pressure on Tre Mitchell.
While Kentucky may not have the depth they want down low, they still possess a lot of scoring potential with their new crop of freshman phenoms. The Wildcats are averaging 83.5 points per game through two games, and three of their four big freshmen are already averaging in double figures.
Even with all of the young scoring potential, the Wildcats have been led by veteran Antonio Reeves through the first two games. The 5th year senior is shooting 50% from the field and three, and John Calipari will need him to be big tonight since he is one of two players on their roster who has played in a game of this magnitude.
Kansas can currently be found as (-6.5) or (-7) point favorites for the game, but for my play, I’ll be backing their first-half spread of (-4). Neither side has played strong competition through their first two games, but the Jayhawks have been far better early in games than the Wildcats. Kansas is 4th in average 1H points scored and 2nd in points allowed, while Kentucky is 122nd and 84th in those categories, respectively.
Experience goes a long way in matchups like this, and Kansas has the advantage in that area. It should take no time at all for Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar to get comfortable tonight, but for Kentucky, there might be an early adjustment period for their freshman who have just played mid-majors early on. When these two teams met last season, Kansas jumped out to a 41-34 lead at halftime, and that was with a more experienced Kentucky group.
Aside from experience, I think Kansas can dominate on the inside since the Wildcats don’t match up well down low. Kentucky is already 53rd in opponent two-point shooting percentage, and they have yet to play a frontcourt like the Jayhawks. With Kentucky ranked 87th in effective field goal percentage through the first two games, I’m not convinced they can keep pace with the Jayhawks scoring early on.
Kansas Jayhawks 1H (-4)(-110) on Caesars Sportsbook