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Kentucky vs Baylor: Last-Minute Preview for SEC vs. Big 12 Showdown

Nov 12, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Julius Randle (30) reacts to losing to Michigan State 78-74 after the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor
Tim KeeneyContributor IDecember 6, 2013

World Cup Draw? Robinson Cano to the Mariners? Anticipation of the most important college football day of the season? Full slate of NBA action?

I'll have none of the above, please.

On an a wild and all-encompassing sports day, there's a late-night college basketball game that is flying under the radar: John Calipari's No. 3 Kentucky vs. Scott Drew's No. 20 Baylor in the inaugural Big 12-SEC Challenge at AT&T Stadium, the site of this year's Final Four. 

Both young teams are still ironing out the kinks (which you wouldn't be able to tell by their combined 14-2 record), but you aren't going to find many other December games featuring more future NBA talent. 

Note: All stats courtesy of kenpom.com (subscription), unless noted otherwise

 

Date: Friday, Dec. 6, 2013

Time: 10:00 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Odds: Kentucky (-4.5), per Covers

Over/Under: 142, per Covers

 

What the Wildcats Do Well

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 27:  Willie Cauley-Stein #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats blocks the shot of Raven Lee #0 of the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Rupp Arena on November 27, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Interior defense and rebounding. 

Calipari's squad is first in America in both offensive rebounding percentage (48.0) and two-point field-goal percentage defense (37.2), which is pretty much the least surprising thing ever with Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein patrolling the interior. 

Randle is averaging a double-double (18.1 points, 12.6 rebounds) through his first eight collegiate games, and considering his blend of strength, size and athleticism, he is incredibly difficult to keep out of the paint and off the glass.

Sophomore Cauley-Stein, a 7-footer who had the necessary agility to play wide receiver in high school, is doing his best impression of Anthony Davis, averaging 3.9 blocks and 1.3 steals on the season. He is 13th in the nation in block percentage, and has the ability to alter everything at the rim. 

 

What the Bears Do Well

WACO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Isaiah Austin #21 of the Baylor Bears drives to the basket against Mindaugas Kacinas #25 of the South Carolina Gamecocks on November 12, 2013 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Much like Kentucky, the Bears are strong and long on the inside. 

They are 11th in offensive rebounding percentage (42.9), 11th in two-point field-goal percentage defense (39.9) and 18th in block percentage (16.1). 

Cory Jefferson is a relentless source of hustle, energy and toughness, while Isaiah Austin is a unique prospecthe stands 7'0" tall with Inspector Gadget go-go-arm length, but can handle the ball and has the ability to score from the perimeter. With 3.3 blocks per contest, he's also decent at protecting the rim. 

The Bears can also make it rain from the outside, as they currently sit at 18th in America in three-point shooting percentage. 

WACO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Brady Heslip #5 of the Baylor Bears reacts after shooting a three-pointer against the South Carolina Gamecocks on November 12, 2013 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Senior Brady Heslip, who has seemingly been around Waco for the last decade, is a big part of that, knocking down over three treys per contest at a ridiculous 52.0 percent clip. 

 

Prediction

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 27:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team during the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Rupp Arena on November 27, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty I
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This is one of the most compelling games of the early season, as both teams feature some of the best big-man rotations in the country, as well as loads of athletic ability all over the court. 

The best player of the loaded bunch, though, is Randle, who should be able to have his way with Jefferson, while Cauley-Stein is a tough matchup for Austin. 

On the perimeter, Kentucky has the athleticism in Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and James Young not only to bother Heslip, but also to penetrate and get Baylor's bigs in foul trouble.

The 'Cats are second in America in getting to the free-throw line (FTA/FGA) and have fouled out an astounding 10 players through eight games, as per the team's box scores.

There is potentially trouble if the Wildcats, against a Baylor team that tends to go zone, go cold from the outside or settle too much, but overall, they have the tools to win this game. 

Kentucky 77, Baylor 70

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