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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 11:23 AM

The two biggest regular season games of the year in the SEC this season will be the two times Kentucky plays Florida. The first showdown is TONIGHT in Lexington in a game to be nationally televised by ESPN. The rematch will be on March 4th down in Gainesville, the day that wraps up regular season basketball across the major conferences.

Florida-Kentucky is the first of many terrific showdowns this week on the college card. You’re surely aware that the two biggest games of the year in the ACC are when Duke and North Carolina play each other. Their first meeting is Wednesday Night. Also on the Wednesday card is Kansas-Baylor, Georgetown-Syracuse, and Notre Dame-West Virginia. Thursday brings St. Mary’s-Gonzaga in one of the biggest West Coast games this season.

On Saturday, how about:

Michigan State at Ohio State (huge game in the Big Ten!)

Baylor at Missouri

Connecticut at Syracuse

Louisville at West Virginia

San Diego State at UNLV (huge game in the Mountain West!)

California at UCLA

Kentucky at Vanderbilt

Yes, it’s going to be quite a week for Kentucky. After obliterating some of the weaker SEC foes, they have to deal with Florida and Vanderbilt in short order. A quick look at respected computer ratings atop the SEC tells you why these games are so big.

SEC COMPUTER RANKINGS

Kentucky (2nd in Pomeroy, 2nd in Sagarin)

Florida (14th in Pomeroy, 12th in Sagarin)

Alabama (25th in Pomeroy, 25th in Sagarin)

Vanderbilt (31st in Pomeroy, 33rd in Sagarin)

Clear consistency there in the readings from Ken Pomeroy’s college basketball website, and Jeff Sagarin’s numbers at USA Today. Kentucky is an obvious national championship threat. Florida is currently expected to be a Sweet 16 team with potential to crack the Elite 8. Alabama has the talent to crash the Sweet 16 and will early a respected seed. Vandy may be in the range where they get a killer draw in the second round of the Dance. They could take out anyone in a one-game showdown.

Let’s take a quick look at what’s happened so far this season when those four teams have played each other:

Kentucky (-10) beat Alabama 77-71

Vanderbilt (+5) beat Alabama 69-59

Florida (-6.5) beat Vanderbilt 73-65

Not much to go on yet. Kentucky has to play Florida and Vandy four times every season, and they haven’t faced either one. This busy week will get them halfway there. Florida and Alabama still have to face each other too…and there’s one more Florida-Vanderbilt game down the road as well.

Nothing there to suggest that Kentucky isn’t the class of the group. Though, they failed to cover the spread in their toughest SEC test yet. That same Arkansas team would lose at home to Vandy! And, then Vandy failed to cover at Florida. So, we have a circle that kind of cancels out there…unless you want to believe the computers are wrong and Florida is a lot better than Kentucky.

We’ll learn a lot about the championship potential for those teams in tonight’s ESPN game. Let’s crunch some quick numbers from Pomeroy’s calculations to set the tone for the showdown.

ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY

Kentucky: 7th in the nation

Florida: 99th in the nation

We emphasize this point for you every season. KENTUCKY PLAYS GREAT DEFENSE! Even when head coach John Calipari is dealing with a bunch of new players (which is seemingly every year), he teaches them defense quickly and they thrive. This is why Kentucky is expected to coast to an SEC crown. They force mistakes and shut people down…particularly during crunch time. Florida, on the other hand, has to outscore people because their defense just isn’t that great amongst the top contenders once you adjust for pace and schedule strength.

ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY

Florida: 2nd

Kentucky: 3rd

Hey, fantastic showing for Florida. You can see what we mean about outscoring opponents. But, they don’t have any sort of edge on the Wildcats because Kentucky is also great! These are well coached teams in terms of offensive sets, earning fast break points, taking advantage of the three when it’s there, and earning free points from the charity stripe. Opponents have their hands full because these teams will find a way to get the ball in the basket whether it’s a slow or fast game.

ADJUSTED TEMPO

Kentucky: 160th

Florida: 176th

With over 300 teams in the math, both of these teams grade out right toward the middle in pace. That’s what we mean about scoring points in any style. They’ll play YOUR style and still beat you! Head-to-head, you can expect a fairly average pace…with fast breaks only coming on clear opportunities.

Before calling it a day, we want to note that Kentucky has turned around their well-publicized pointspread woes from earlier in the season. You may recall that the Wildcats suffered a HORRIBLE pointspread slump for a few weeks because they just weren’t able to dominate people the way the market expected. Kentucky was still winning, but they weren’t winning by enough. Lately, that’s changed.

Kentucky is 5-1 ATS its last six games, with the non-cover coming in that home game against Alabama that we already mentioned. Otherwise:

Kentucky (-16) beat Arkansas 86-63

Kentucky (-12) beat Georgia 57-44

Kentucky (-10) beat LSU 74-50

Kentucky (-15) beat Tennessee 69-44

Kentucky (-12) beat South Carolina 86-52

They barely got there vs. Georgia, but the other victory margins were 23, 24, 25, and 34 points. Vegas could have added six points to every line and Kentucky still would have cashed those tickets! It has to be scary for the rest of the nation to consider that Kentucky may be getting BETTER as the season progresses. The market had them overpriced before. The Wildcats are now clearing expectations comfortably.

Will that happen tonight vs. Florida? Or, is Kentucky one of those teams at the moment that will crush undermanned opponents…but still struggle to pull away from good teams? Remember that they DIDN’T cover that 10-point spread on this floor against Alabama.

JIM HURLEY has been looking at the Florida-Kentucky matchup very carefully because he knows how much his clients love winning TV games. If there’s value at the market price, NETWORK clients will get the game. But, matchups like Purdue-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, and Maryland-Clemson are also getting consideration in the colleges. We’re also looking at Utah-Indiana, Phoenix-Milwaukee, and Oklahoma City-Golden State in the NBA.

You can purchase game day releases a few hours before tip off seven days a week here at the website. Make a few clicks and have your credit cards handy. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. We have great rates for basketball through March Madness or the NBA Playoffs. Be sure you ask about those. Football is finished…but THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING!

Back with you in the NOTEBOOK Wednesday to preview Duke-North Carolina. We’ll take a side trip Thursday to the NBA because the Lakers and Celtics are renewing their storied rivalry. Saturday we’ll preview that long awaited Michigan State-Ohio State game. As we said above, it’s going to be a fantastic week in college basketball. We will have major releases going every night. If one Vegas line in particular comes where we expect it too, we’ll soon release a conference GAME OF THE YEAR. We may have multiple Game of the Month and GAME OF THE YEAR caliber releases in the next seven days alone the way the schedule is shaping up.

Don’t make your daily move in college basketball until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say

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