The Kentucky Wildcats received a bit of bad news headed into their first-round matchup with Abilene Christian Wildcats. Star forward P.J. Washington has been ruled out of Thursday’s game due to a foot injury that may keep him out longer. Although, Washington will be donning a hard cast for this game, head coach John Calipari reiterated that he has a sprained foot and there is no fracture.
15 Abilene Christian Wildcats (27-6) vs. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (27-6)
When: Thursday March 21, 7 p.m. EDT
Where: Jacksonville, Florida – Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena
Betting Line: Kentucky -20.5 – o/u 131.5
Right now, the Wildcats don’t seem to be too concerned about Washington’s departure. However, many things can change once the game is tipped. The Wildcats are heavy favorites and expect to win by 20 points at least. They may be shocked if the unheralded Wildcats push them to the brink.
Yet, they better recognize that Abilene Christian can play this game at a high level. The winners of the Southland Conference may be new to the NCAA Tournament. Still one must understand that the Southland has had recent success during March Madness. Besides, the record alone speaks for itself.
Moreover, Abilene Christian has some elite play in a few areas. They pass the ball very well. In fact, they average 15.5 assists per game. Kentucky only averages 13.8 assists per game. Jaylen Franklin leads the team with 4.9 assists per game. He also scores 10 points per game to give Abilene Christian four players with double digit scorers. Franklin does most of his damage in the paint, but he may unleash the 3-point shot if Kentucky decides to force the issue. He only attempts .5 3-pointers per game. However, Payten Ricks connects on 40 percent of his 3-point shots. Ricks is clearly their most lethal threat from beyond the arc.
But it only takes one glance at Abilene Christian to know they like to get layups and dunks. Their on-ball pressure led to 288 steals this season. Meaning, they were No. 12 team in steals this season. As a result, Abilene Christian may be able to pick their spots in transition, especially if they force live ball turnovers.
Kentucky still has plenty of depth in the front court, but they already showed limitations when Reid Travis went down with an injury for a couple of games. Travis has returned, but the loss of Washington means Kentucky will only have three double digit scorers in the round of 64. Will they need somebody else to step up?
The freshman back court of Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans combine for over 35 points per game. They are entering their first one and done scenario of the NCAA Tournament. Will they be able to handle game pressure of a close contest? Nick Richards should get the start for Washington Thursday night.
Pick- Kentucky 80 – Abilene Christian 70