March Madness Preview and Pick
The Abilene and Kentucky Wildcats are scheduled to tip in a round-of-64 affair on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET. The first-round event will be played at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. March Madness Preview and Pick: Kentucky -22 vs Abilene.
Second seed Kentucky is beginning the college basketball championship tournament the way they closed their conference postseason event. That beginning stars with the health of the player personnel. The return of forward Reid Travis (knee) comes at less than 100 percent. And sophomore forward PJ Washington (team highs of 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds) was seen in a walking boot less than 48 hours from Thursday’s game versus Abilene Christian.
The Wildcats of Abilene Christian Wildcats are in just their sixth season of Division I college basketball. The school earned an invite to college basketball’s “Dance” with a 77-60 victory over New Orleans in the Southland Conference tourney final.
Senior forward Jaren Lewis earned the Southland tournament MVP trophy after the team’s victory over New Orleans. Lewis leads a balanced team in scoring (13.7 per game). The frontcourter’s 6.2 rebound per game also are a team high. The backcourt is in good hands with senior guard Jaylen Franklin (10.2 points, 4.9 assists, 3.8 rebounds). The upperclassman dominated the boxscore for the Wildcats. Freshman forward Joe Pleasant (5.8 ppg) throws in his two-cents on game-day, as well.
A large number of internet portals are reporting doom and gloom for Kentucky. Injury issues to Travis in combination with the team’s leading scorer, Washington, have the U of K faithful on edge.
The health of the pair is mission critical moving forward but not relevant to Thursday night’s game against Abilene Christian. A group of players from the Southland Conference playing in their first NCAA Tournament appearance are not a threat to take down Kentucky with or without Travis and Washington.
Not only is Abilene a non-factor in the championship title picture the team’s NET rating and quadrant record paint the picture of the team and the league as a whole.
Abilene Christian played one Quad 1 qualifier this season, Texas Tech, and lost by 36 points in a 82-48 final. The Wildcats check in for their first “Dance” with a line of 0-1, 0-0, 2-2 and 21-3, in respect to Quad 1 through 4 records. No Big Dance qualifier played less Quad 1 and 2 foes than Abilene.
And while Abilene Wildcats enter the tournament with a 27-6 mark the Southland Conference ranking is not in the Top-15 of college basketball. Their regular season schedule did little to prepare them for Kentucky’s second rotation yet alone their first with Travis and absent Washington.
Abilene also isn’t a threat to backdoor Kentucky when head coach Cal pulls his starters in the second half with what should be a near 30-point lead. This because the Ab-Christian bench boss Joe Golding will be giving his bench a taste of March Madness at that point, as well.