Alabama guard John Petty Jr. (23) celebrates the score that tied Auburn at the end of the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb.12, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)
- SEC unbeatens Kentucky and Alabama will play for first place in the league at Rupp Arena on Tuesday
- Alabama — it is basketball season now — has won five in a row and is seeking its longest winning streak since 2014-15
- Kentucky has won three in a row after a six-game losing streak — find out who we like in the preview below
Alabama (9-3, 4-0 SEC) is off to its best start in conference play since winning its first eight in 1986-87. They’re at Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky Tuesday, where the Crimson Tide have lost eight straight games with their last victory coming in 2006. The Tide had lost five in a row at Auburn before posting a 94-90 win there Saturday.
Kentucky (4-6, 3-0), was off to its worst start since 1911 after losing six straight following a season-opening victory, but it has won its last three following a 62-59 loss to intra-state rival Louisville the day after Christmas.
Alabama vs Kentucky Odds
|Alabama Crimson Tide||+114||+1.5 (-102)||146.5 (Over-110)|
|Kentucky Wildcats||-134||-1.5 (-118)||146.5 (Under-110)|
Odds courtesy FanDuel Jan. 11. Game time is 9 pm ET.
During their five-game winning streak, Alabama is 4-0-1 against the spread and has covered the line in three. Kentucky has covered three of its last four and is 1-4 against the spread at home. The Wildcats have been under the total in eight of their 10 games.
Playing Both Sides of the Floor
Balanced, up-tempo Alabama is in the top 40 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the most recent KenPom rankings. The Crimson Tide average 14.2 seconds per possession and have made that quick pace work, scoring at least 80 points in nine of 12 games. The 94 at Auburn was a season high.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
Alabama has attempted 351 3-pointers, 12th in NCAA Division I, and made an average of 9.4 3-pointers per game. John Petty Jr., one of four Tide players averaging between 12.4 and 13.1 points per game, has made 22 threes this season. His 256 career triples is eight short of the school record.
The game will match perimeter strength against perimeter strength. Kentucky ranks No. 2 in the SEC in field goal percentage defense (37.9%) and in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.272). The Wildcats lead the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage (46.8%).
Worth the Wait
Kentucky 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Keion Books Jr. had 12 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench at Florida in his first game of the season. He also led the team with four assists and added a blocked shot and a steal. Brooks suffered a calf injury prior to the season and missed the first nine games.
Sunday mornings hit different when you’re on a winning streak 😼🏀
… and when @KeionB_12 is back. pic.twitter.com/yp6uTntmGu
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 10, 2021
His return is a big plus. The only Wildcat returnee with any significant experience last season, Brooks played in all 31 games as a freshman and averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 15.1 minutes a game. He was a top-35 recruit out of high school and chose Kentucky over Indiana, Michigan State and Kansas.
“Him being out there makes everything much easier. You do have another leader out there,” said senior guard Davion Mintz, who is averaging 10.3 points a game and has a team-high 29 assists.
Wildcats’ 6-7 freshman guard Terrence Clarke is expected to miss his fourth straight game because of an ankle injury suffered in a 75-63 loss to North Carolina on Dec. 19. Clarke, who started six of his seven games, is averaging 10.7 points and is one of four Wildcats with scoring in double-digits. He is averaging 31.3 minutes, most on the team.
Channeling Abe Lemons
In his press conference after the Florida victory, John Calipari used a trope made famous by former Texas coach Abe Lemons.
“I know there were probably some people putting dirt on the coffin and we pushed open the coffin and said, ‘We’re not having this,’” Calipari told reporters.
During his TV show in 1978, Texas coach Lemons rose from a coffin as the show opened and said “We are not dead yet.”
Decision to Kneel Not Universally Hailed
Kentucky will play its first home game since players and coach John Calipari knelt arm-in-arm on the baseline during the national anthem before a the 76-58 victory at Florida on Saturday as a protest to the riot at the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday. Players informed Calipari of their decision beforehand and he agreed to join them.
I’ve heard my dad called a lot of things and John “the comy” calipari may be the funniest one of them all. Coming from the chief of police tho. I’ve heard him called worse from better people🤷🏻♂️ https://t.co/NsF5Sv3B6e
— Brad Calipari (@bradcalipari) January 11, 2021
“These kids are good kids,” Calipari said. “They care about this country and all the other stuff. They’re trying to figure out life and making statements they think they have to make. I want to listen to what they’re saying, and then I’ll support them if they want me to be there.”
Some in Big Blue nation were not appreciative, and it remains to be seen how the majority of the fan base will react. Rupp Arena, which seats 20,545, is allowing 15% capacity for home games this season.
The pick: Kentucky -1.5 (-118)
Jack has covered college and professional sports for various Arizona media outlets and has written for the AP, USA Today and Baseball America, among others. He staffed the 2015-17 World Series and has staffed four Super Bowls.