(3) Notre Dame vs. (1) Kentucky
Time: 8:49 PM EST
Spread: KEN -11.5
Betting odds c/o Bovada
Kentucky Wildcats sitting at a firm 37-0 this season, college basketball oddsmakers aren’t expecting even a good team like Notre Dame to do much about it.
Kentucky closed its season in strong fashion by sweeping through the SEC tournament. It added definitive punctuation by handing a 78-63 defeat to then-No. 21 Arkansas in the championship game, behind what may have been the best game of center Willie Cauley-Stein’s college career. He impacted the game tremendously on both ends of the court, eventually finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds (3 offensive) and two blocks in 30 efficient minutes, even knocking down 5 of 6 from the line as a notoriously poor free throw shooter. The seven-footer is expected to be a high first round pick in the 2015 NBA draft and will be looking to solidify his draft position in this tournament.
But Cauley-Stein is hardly the only Wildcat with something at stake here. Starting big man Karl-Anthony Towns is now projected to go No. 1 or No. 2 overall in June, and the talented freshman has been quietly dominant, if such a juxtaposition can be laced. In 19 minutes in the win over the Razorbacks, he shot 3 of 5 for eight points, four rebounds and two blocks. Defensively is where Towns may shine initially in the NBA, and opponents in this tournament are going to have a tough time penetrating the interior of the Wildcats’ defense. Moreover, the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, are both good tempo controlling guards who bring stability and control to this team, that should help the Wildcats avoid fizzling out against teams with dominant guard play.
It can be expected Coach John Calipari will begin now to tighten the rotation of a deep squad he has distributed the minutes to evenly all season. In the SEC championship game, only two Wildcats came off the bench to see significant action, and the bench produced just nine points on six field goal attempts. Trey Lyles, the Harrisons, Cauley-Stein and Towns are due to carry this team, though the depth can certainly come in handy in the event of either injuries or foul trouble.
There’s nothing that West Virginia could do, unable to take the ball inside, playing scared basketball, and ending up entirely dominated 78-39 in a Sweet 16 game. It’s almost surreal for Wildcat fans, but most of those fans are expecting a title, not desiring one. It stands to reason that Mountaineers fans were about to rip some heads off, but what can be said about a team featuring multiple first round picks on a regular basis. “Real recognizes real” would sum up the view held by non-Wildcat fans, as this may be one of the best NCAA teams of all-time.
Notre Dame finished the regular season 29-5 with a 14-4 mark in the ACC. It drew the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region and a second round matchup with No. 14 Northeastern. Early NCAA basketball live odds showed the Fighting Irish as 12.5 point favorites with the over/under set at 141 for the game which will air on CBS.
Notre Dame closed its season in impressive fashion, notching a 90-82 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC Championship game. The Irish went on a late run, outscoring UNC 26-3 in the second half spurt as Jerian Grant came through with a big 24-point game for the Irish. All five starters scored in double-figures and the Irish also got 20 points from Pat Connaughton on 4 of 5 three-point shooting, as the Irish hit 10 of 20 from distance in the game and got to the line 32 times to knock down 28. Those two features alone are going to make Notre Dame very tough to contend with, because it can rely on easy points from the stripe and consistent three-point shooting (yet without being necessarily a “live and die by the three” kind of team).
The Irish are deadly accurate from distance, nonetheless, knocking down 39 percent as a team. Connaughton alone hits 43.6 percent , while ranking second on the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game. Grant leads the way with 16.8 points per game, and he’s also dishing out an outstanding 6.6 assists per contest. The 6’5” senior guard had struggled somewhat before the UNC contest, having scored 13 points or less in three of his previous four games prior to the outing. Not only did he tally 24 points in the win over North Carolina, but he also dropped 10 dimes while committing just two turnovers. On the season, he’s good for a 3.3:1 assist/turnover ratio, and that well composed play should definitely bode well for the Irish. He’s experienced, steady and a good scorer—all basically three traits that are prerequisites from a floor general if a team is to advance deep in March.
Notre Dame surprisingly had no trouble against Wichita despite entering the game as 1.5 point underdogs. Vegas got that one wrong: The Irish won by 11. It doesn’t happen often, but the Irish are playing smart basketball and doing a great job of controlling the pace as necessary: When necessary to speed it up, the Irish do, then go pedantic to control the clock and the game. It’s not as though that will work against a dominant team like Kentucky though. Bettors are finding this one a difficult one to bet the spread on, though there is an inclination to bet the Wildcats to cover the spread if only because it has had few problems this tournament, even against the toughest squads.