The Kentucky Wildcats didn't live up to expectations earlier this season, but they've played some of their best ball recently.
That preseason No. 1 ranking may have been a bit much for such a young team to handle. Now, the Wildcats suddenly find themselves in the Sweet 16 and facing a familiar rival they have dominated against the spread.
To extend its season, Kentucky will have to get by the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals in a Midwest game Friday night in Indianapolis. For believers, here's an interesting trend from the Odds Shark database: No. 8 seeds have played No. 4 seeds three times since 2000 and have won every time.
Spread and total points scored betting line
The Cardinals opened as 5.5-point favorites; the total was 138. (Compare lines and consensus on the Odds Shark matchup report.)
Odds Shark computer pick
Why pick Kentucky to cover the spread
Kentucky is 8-2-1 ATS in its past 11 games versus Louisville, and it is now on 7-0 SU and 6-0-1 ATS runs in tournament action.
After missing the NCAA tournament last year, Kentucky returned in 2014 as a No. 8 seed. It finished second in the SEC during the regular season, going 12-6, and then lost the conference tournament title game to top-ranked Florida by a single point.
The 'Cats began this tournament with a tough 56-49 win over Kansas State and then knocked off top-seeded and undefeated Wichita State in a 78-76 thriller. Kentucky may have lost 10 games during the season and dropped all the way out of the rankings, but there's no doubt the Wildcats are still very dangerous.
Why pick Louisville to cover the spread
The champs have won 18 of their last 20 games, going 13-7 against the spread in the process, and they now find themselves two wins away from a third straight trip to the Final Four.
The Cardinals shared the AAC's regular-season title this year and then won the conference tournament, but they only received a No. 4 seed. But since the start of this NCAA tournament, they've been considered among the favorites to win it.
Louisville struggled with No. 13 Manhattan in its tournament opener and then beat Saint Louis in a ragged contest. So the Cards haven't played a good full game yet in this tournament. Helped along by its run to the title last year, Louisville is 9-3-1 against the spread in its last 13 NCAA tournament games.
Smart betting pick
Kentucky is 8-2-1 ATS in its last 11 games against Louisville, and the Wildcats beat the Cardinals 73-66 back in November in Lexington. The Wildcats shot just 44 percent in that game but held Louisville to 40 percent shooting.
But the Cardinals have lost just three times since that night. Louisville starts three seniors, while Kentucky starts five freshmen, and that experience might play a factor in this big-stage spectacle. Take the Cardinals, minus the points.
Kentucky Wildcats: No. 86
Louisville Cardinals: No. 1 (per Odds Shark power ranks)
March Madness betting trends
- Kentucky is 8-2-1 ATS in its past 11 games versus Louisville.
- Eleven of past 14 meetings between these teams have played under the total.
- The Wildcats are on 5-0 ATS run after an 0-5 ATS run, and they are on 7-0 SU, 6-0-1 ATS runs in tournament games.
- Louisville is 6-1 ATS past seven games and is 14-1 SU past 15 games as favorites.
- The Cards are also 6-1 ATS in Sweet 16 betting action since 1997.
- No. 8 seeds have played No. 4 seeds three times since 2000 and have won all three.