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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | December 20, 2019

No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Kentucky: Time, TV channel, preview, prediction

Here's how the latest Power 36 compares to new AP Top 25, first NET rankings

This weekend gives us a top-10 matchup between No. 5 Ohio State (10-1) and No. 6 Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas. The game will tip off at 5:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, December 21 and the game will be broadcast on CBS.

The Buckeyes, which were previously ranked No. 3, had a shot to be ranked No. 1 in the latest AP Top 25 poll had their road game at Minnesota been scheduled one day later, and the Wildcats have already spent time at No. 1 this season.

So at their best, these teams arguably have two of the highest ceilings in the sport.

We can thank whoever set the original scheduling rotation for the CBS Sports Classic in 2014 for providing us with Ohio State-Kentucky as the featured matchup after North Carolina-UCLA.

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS: Here's exactly how the new 3-point line has impact college basketball this season

Preview

The last time these two schools met in the CBS Sports Classic in 2015, the unranked Buckeyes knocked off the No. 4-ranked Wildcats 74-67. This year, both teams are ranked almost as highly as the 'Cats were four years ago.

Ohio State is ranked in the top 10 in terms of efficiency on offense (No. 10) and defense (No. 4), and you'd be hard-pressed to find many of the Buckeyes' rotation players who don't rank among the national leaders in terms of offensive rating. Junior forward Kyle Young has the best offensive rating in the country (148.1), while his frontcourt teammate Kaleb Wesson, a more traditional low-post big man who has become a lethal 3-point shooter this season (45.9% on 37 attempts), is the team's focal point on offense.

Ohio State's 41.6 3-point percentage ranks sixth nationally, thanks to the Buckeyes making the fifth-biggest year-over-year improvement in the country from last season.

They also operate with a high-level of efficiency after timeouts, so don't let Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann draw up the play he wants after a timeout or let the team's defense get in position.

Kentucky's 3-point percentage is almost 15 percentage points worse than Ohio State as the Wildcats are one of 36 teams this season that have a worse 3-point percentage than Jackson State last season, which shot a Division I-low percentage from outside.

Like usual, these Wildcats are talented, big and young but in addition to their 3-point shooting woes, question linger about who will be their go-to scorer when they need a big bucket and they don't have the same caliber of frontcourt as they've had in years past, especially with a wrist injury limiting transfer Nate Sestina.

Kentucky's trip out West got off to a rocky start with the Wildcats' 69-66 loss to Utah on a neutral court in Las Vegas on Wednesday and their next game after the CBS Sports Classic is against Louisville, so this is a critical stretch for the country's preseason No. 2 team.

What does the path to victory look like for Kentucky?

For starters, it'll need its top-10 defense to have one of its best performances of the season. The Wildcats allow opponents to attempt slightly more 3-pointers than the national average and running Ohio State's shooters off the 3-point line is a good place to start.

But at the same time, Kentucky will need to throw as many bodies as possible at Kaleb Wesson, so it may be a case of the 'Cats picking their poison — focus on harassing the country's sixth-best 3-point shooting team or focusing on the No. 3 player in kenpom.com's national player of the year standings —and it doesn't help that Sestina played just 10 minutes off the bench against Utah.

That's why the simplest key to a Kentucky victory might be needing freshman guard Tyrese Maxey to have another remarkable neutral-court performance. He opened his college career with 26 points off the bench in a win over No. 1 Michigan State, then he scored a team-high 18 points against Utah, albeit in a less-efficient shooting effort.

Another explosion from Maxey, or a collective "A" performance from Kentucky guards Maxey, Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, is probably necessary to beat an Ohio State team that was one of the last in the country to suffer a loss.

Prediction

Ohio State 84, Kentucky 72

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