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Kentucky vs. Seton Hall: Predictions and odds

Kentucky head coach John Calipari loves to put his players in the spotlight. He knows showcase games help attract high-caliber one-and-done stars who can keep the program in national-championship contention year after year.

Saturday brings such an opportunity at Madison Square Garden against Seton Hall (Fox, noon). A strong performance at college basketball’s mecca will help erase the memory (and impact) of an embarrassing 118-84 loss to Duke in Kentucky’s season opener in Indianapolis. The Wildcats are 7-0 straight up since then … but everyone remembers the Duke debacle that missed the point spread by 36 points.

For the season, Kentucky is just 3-5 against what turned out to be inflated market expectations. It faces an inconsistent Seton Hall squad that impressed with a three-game win/cover streak to capture the Wooden Legacy tournament in Fullerton Calif. (Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Miami-Florida)… but lost as home favorites to both Saint Louis and Louisville, and got knocked around at Nebraska 80-57 as 7 1/2-point underdogs.

From a handicapping perspective, it’s an important litmus test for both. You can’t bet Kentucky in big games away from home with confidence until it shows intensity on both sides of the floor. Seton Hall isn’t likely to matter in the Big East if it can’t compete for 40 minutes Saturday in front of a metro crowd.

Hours after Kentucky-Seton Hall ends, the Brooklyn Nets will take on the New York Knicks on the same floor. VSiN alerted you to Brooklyn’s back-to-back woes in a recent article. The Nets are 0-6 straight up and ATS when playing on night two of a back-to-back this season. Brooklyn hosted Toronto Friday night. New York had a day to recover from Thursday’s 128-100 loss at rejuvenated Boston. (Celtics have covered their last four by 19 1/2, 20 1/2, 11, and 14 1/2 points.)

A quick reminder that Brooklyn has excelled in the first 12 minutes this season, covering better than 70 percent of its first-quarter point spreads. Let’s keep an eye on the back-to-back scenario here, though. In their last fatigue challenge, the Nets dropped the first quarter in Washington, 24-19. It could turn out that “rested Brooklyn” is the much better take in first quarters.

Both New York NHL teams are in action on the road Saturday…

• The Islanders visit Detroit in a game matching teams that rarely are money-line favorites. The Isles have been betting favorites only six times all season; Detroit, just four times. New York is coming off a 6-2 blowout loss Thursday at the hands of revenge-minded Pittsburgh. It was the Isles’ fourth loss in the last five games. Detroit shocked league-power Toronto, 5-4, in overtime Thursday as a +260 underdog. This is the first meeting of the season between the Islanders and Red Wings. They’ll play again next Saturday in New York.

• The Rangers end a long hiatus with a trip to Florida. They haven’t played since losing Sunday at home to Winnipeg. That dropped the Rangers to 1-5 their last six games. Florida has been a disaster for backers this season, falling to minus nine units after a 5-2 Thursday home loss to Colorado as -120 money-line favorites. The Rangers lead the season series 2-0, but both games were at the Garden.

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