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Kansas vs. Kentucky prediction: Grab the points with slumping Jayhawks

Bet on the defending champs to challenge for outright upset in Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge battle at Rupp Arena

Bill Self has never lost four straight games in his 20 years as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. That could change Saturday, when Kansas takes a three-game losing streak to Rupp Arena for an SEC/Big 12 Challenge battle against Kentucky. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Bill Self has never lost four straight games in his 20 years as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. That could change Saturday, when Kansas takes a three-game losing streak to Rupp Arena for an SEC/Big 12 Challenge battle against Kentucky. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)Read moreChris Graythen / Getty Images

Not only is Kansas vs. Kentucky the marquee matchup among Saturday’s five SEC/Big 12 Challenge clashes, but it’s oozing with juicy storylines from one baseline to the other.

Beyond the obvious — two college basketball bluebloods led by two Hall of Fame coaches — there’s the revenge factor. Exactly one year ago, the Wildcats walked into Allen Fieldhouse and pummeled Kansas, 80-62 (as a 5-point underdog, no less).

Then there’s this: After a sluggish start to its season, Kentucky has won (and covered) four in a row, all in convincing fashion.

Conversely, the Jayhawks have followed a 16-1 start — including a 10-game winning streak — with three consecutive defeats.

Number of times Kansas has lost four straight games in head coach Bill Self’s 20-year tenure, which spans precisely 700 games? Zero.

As we said: lots of juicy storylines.

So are we headed for some unflattering Jayhawks history at Rupp Arena on Saturday night? Or will the defending national champs rise up, snap out of their funk and deliver some payback to Kentucky for last year’s beatdown?

Here’s our Kansas vs. Kentucky prediction for Saturday’s prime-time throwdown.

Odds updated as of 1:30 a.m. ET on Jan. 28.

Kansas vs. Kentucky Prediction

  1. Kansas +3 (at Caesars Sportsbook)

Kansas vs. Kentucky Prediction: Analysis

It’s strange to say, especially coming off three straight losses, but Self and his Jayhawks have to be over-the-moon excited to be facing Kentucky right now — even if it is in Lexington.

Why? Because it means a break from the excruciating meat grinder that is the Big 12.

By far the best college basketball league on the planet this season, the Big 12 boasts six ranked teams this week — not just in the Top 25 but among the top 17.

No. 9 Kansas is one of those squads. The other five: No. 5 Kansas State, No. 10 Texas, No. 11 TCU, No. 12 Iowa State and No. 17 Baylor.

Now get this: The Jayhawks just faced four of those five teams — the exception being Texas — in succession over the past two weeks.

Two Saturdays ago, Kansas edged Iowa State, 62-60, at home. Then came the three straight defeats to Kansas State (83-82 in overtime on the road), TCU (83-60 at home) and Baylor (75-69 on the road).

So you better believe Kansas welcomes this brief Big 12 respite, even if it is against a Kentucky squad that’s on an upswing. Because even with their recent surge, the Wildcats aren’t as good as any of the opponents Kansas battled in the last two weeks.

Want some numbers to back that up? Well, for starters, Kentucky plays in a league with half as many ranked teams (three) as the Big 12. And the Wildcats aren’t one of them — in fact, in this week’s poll, Kentucky received three Top 25 votes.

That puts coach John Calipari’s squad 40th, behind such others-receiving-votes teams as Creighton (9 votes), Kent State (24) and San Diego State (57).

Don’t trust the media? OK, let’s check out the KenPom rankings, where seven Big 12 teams are ranked between No. 9 and No. 25.

Those teams, in order: Texas (9), Kansas (10), TCU (13), Iowa State (14), Baylor (16), West Virginia (21) and Kansas State (25).

Kentucky’s KenPom ranking: 30th.

Now in fairness, the Wildcats did kick off their current four-game winning streak with easily their most impressive win of the season. Four days after losing 71-68 to South Carolina as a 20-point home favorite, Kentucky went to fifth-ranked Tennessee two weeks ago and won 63-56 as an 11-point underdog.

Major kudos for that victory — especially doing it in Knoxville against a Volunteers squad that handed Kansas its first loss of the season (64-50 at a Thanksgiving tournament in The Bahamas).

The Wildcats’ three subsequent wins, though? Against KenPom No. 38 Texas A&M (home), KenPom No. 91 Vanderbilt (road) and KenPom No. 95 Georgia (home).

Not exactly a Big 12-like gauntlet.

No, we don’t expect this to be a cakewalk similar to what Kentucky enjoyed in Lawrence, Kansas, last year. After all, the Jayhawks have to deal with reigning national Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe, who has four double-doubles in his last five games.

However, no Wildcats other than Tshiebwe (16.6) and guard Antonio Reeves (12.9) are averaging more than 11 points per game. And no Wildcats other than Tshiebwe (13.9) are pulling down more than 6.6 rebounds per game.

Kansas, on the other hand, has three legit playmakers in forward Jalen Wilson (team-high 21.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest), and guards Gradey Dick (14.9 points, 5.2 boards) and Kevin McCullar Jr. (10.4 points, 7.3 rebounds).

Rest assured, Self will have that trio — and all of his troops — ready to go Saturday night. Both he and his players know the “history” they will make if they don’t leave Rupp Arena with a victory.

Of course, by installing Kentucky as a slight favorite, college hoops oddsmakers believe there’s a good chance Self is headed for that unprecedented fourth straight loss Saturday.

While we disagree and favor the Jayhawks to win outright, we’ll take the points that Caesars Sportsbook is offering and call for the champs to at least halt their five-game spread-covering slump.

Kansas vs. Kentucky Odds: (via Caesars Sportsbooks)

  1. Point spread: Kansas (+3) @ Kentucky (-3)

  2. Moneyline: Kansas (+122) @ Kentucky (-145)

  3. Total: 140 points

The Inquirer is not an online gambling operator, or a gambling site. We provide this information about sports betting for entertainment purposes only.