No. 23 Kentucky and Arkansas clash on Saturday as the regular season comes to a close with some high stakes up for grabs. The Wildcats have eyes on securing a double-bye for the SEC Tournament, while the Razorbacks seek to solidify their NCAA Tournament résumé. Arkansas (19-11, 8-9 SEC) won the first meeting 88-73 at Rupp Arena back on Feb. 7, but the teams have gone in opposite directions since then.
Kentucky took a home loss to Vanderbilt on Wednesday but remains comfortably in the projected NCAA Tournament field as a No. 7 seed, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm. Though injuries to guards Sahvir Wheeler and Cason Wallace remain a concern, UK showed during a four-game February winning streak over Mississippi State, Tennessee, Florida and Auburn that it absolutely deserves a spot in the Big Dance.
Arkansas has lost four of its last six games, falling to a No. 9 seed in Palm’s Bracketology even amid the return of freshman guard Nick Smith Jr. The top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2022 missed most of the season due to knee issues and has averaged 18 points per game in four contests since returning to the starting lineup.
However, Smith’s return has not translated to on-court success for the Hogs, who are guaranteed to begin SEC Tournament play in Thursday’s second round. When Arkansas beat Kentucky in the first meeting, the Razorbacks shot 62.7% from the floor without Smith and outscored UK 47-33 in the second half.
Kentucky should be motivated by that poor performance to put forth a better showing this time as both teams look to enter the postseason with momentum.
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Kentucky vs. Arkansas prediction, picks
Arkansas should play with a sense of desperation as it looks to avoid entering the postseason on a three-game losing streak. While the Razorbacks are on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble entering the weekend, a loss could make things interesting heading into the SEC Tournament. Kentucky has some health questions at guard with both Sahvir Wheeler and Cason Wallace, and the Wildcats struggled mightily in this matchup back on Feb. 7. With Arkansas’ home crowd behind it, look for the Razorbacks to handle business and pick up their 20th win. Prediction: Arkansas -5
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