College World Series Game 3 Odds: Will Plucky NC State Defy Odds Again Vs. Kentucky?

Written By Brett Gibbons | Last Updated
kentucky nc state cws odds

The debutant and No. 2-ranked Kentucky Wildcats face the scrappy and hungry No. 10 NC State Wolfpack in the opening round of the 2024 College World Series. Fresh off an impressive Super Regional sweep over Oregon State, Kentucky opened as a -174 favorite on the moneyline odds, while NC State opened a +140 underdog. The Wolfpack blasted Georgia 18-1 in the opening game last round, but needed three games to punch their ticket to Omaha. Both teams have an extremely compelling story this postseason, but one will start behind the 8-ball with a loss here.

NC State vs. Kentucky begins Saturday at 2:00 p.m. ET from Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska. Watch the game on ESPN or ESPN+.

College Baseball Odds: Kentucky Vs. NC State

Compare Kentucky vs. NC State game odds from the best sports betting sites below. Click on odds to place a bet.

The Case For Kentucky

Last year, Kentucky came up one matchup short of the College World Series. They’d likely have made it playing most any other team, but they drew eventual champion LSU in the Super Regionals. This year, the Wildcats punch their first ticket to Omaha in program history. Kentucky was the final SEC team not to have made the CWS.

Among teams in the field of eight, Kentucky played the most games away from home. Being the northernmost team in the field (and the SEC), that’s expected. But a 19-8 record away from Lexington might not be expected. Compare that to other teams in the field like North Carolina (10-11), NC State (10-14), and even Tennessee (11-8). Kentucky is just as comfortable anywhere outside their home park as they are inside it.

After a 10-8 win over Western Michigan, Kentucky stifled its next four opponents to three shared runs. The starting pitching – anchored by Mason Moore (9-3, 4.93), Trey Pooser (7-1, 3.46 ERA), and Dominic Niman (8-4, 6.24) – is like trying to bat through a brick wall. The relief cast is as good as any, little as it might be needed. Closer Johnny Hummel (3.49 ERA, 7 saves) is as efficient as it gets, holding opponents to a .158 average and fanning 38 while walking just 10 in 28.1 innings.

Offensively, the lineup won’t win any highlight awards for home run compilations. But they’re one of the most dangerous base-running teams in the country. Kentucky’s stolen the most bases among the eight finalists, led by Émilien Pitre (25) and Ryan Waldschmidt (24).

The Case Against

There’s always a trepidation around small ball. Kentucky might take four hits to drive in a pair of runs, while NC State can erase that lead with a single swing. But nobody in the country does it better than UK.

Five of the top nine tournament teams in wRC+ (field of 64) are in the CWS. Kentucky ranks 20th, ahead of NC State (statistical anomaly, we’ll get to that) and Florida (the only unranked team in this CWS). We see it each year – a team with an ace rotation fails to score runs in the cavernous Charles Schwab Field and fizzles out in a few games.

The Case for NC State

Let’s get the narrative stuff out of the way first. Honestly, it’s going to be a driving factor behind NC State in Omaha, because the on-paper stats just don’t back them up. NC State ranks last in FIP among the Omaha 8 (as well as among every No. 1 and No. 2 need in the tournament field). They rank third-to-last in both wOBA and fielding percent. On paper, NC State shouldn’t be here.

And yet, they are. They turned the top of innings in Games 1 and 3 in Athens into home run derbies. The long ball accounted for an astounding 18 of NC State’s total 27 runs in the Super Regional round. These weren’t sneak-it-over-the-fence homers; these were towering shots that ended up in the backyard of the Georgia frat house that overlooks right field.

The last time NC State made a run at Omaha, it resulted in one of the most controversial decisions in sports history. A few members of the 2021 squad contracted COVID-19. While half the team was already vaccinated, the NCAA decided to disqualify them.

The motivation is unquestionable. This team is looking not just to return to Omaha, but make some real noise while they’re there.

Okay, Some Real Analysis

NC State’s lineup is anchored by three solid power hitters: infielders Alec Makarewicz (22 home runs) and Garrett Pennington (18), and catcher Jacob Cozart (19). All three bat over .300, with Makarewicz leading the way at .380. The entire Wolfpack lineup is aggressive, taking minimal walks but also striking out a minimal number of times. They want to put a bat on a ball.

If your lineup is stacked with righties or players that have trouble hitting sliders, then this rotation will give you fits. In Game 3, NC State’s trio of Logan Whitaker (3-1, 6.06), Jacob Dudan (4-2, 4.40), and closer Derrick Smith (4.82) fanned 11 Georgia batters. A majority of those strikeouts came via a nearly-untouchable slider.

NC State is scrappy. They’ll win a game 18-1 and turn right around and lose the next 11-2. But a dangerous lineup and pesky pitching make them a tough out.

Expected Pitching Matchup

The strategy for pitching in the College World Series is extremely difficult. Do you keep your ace arms for elimination games? Maintain your usual rotation? Or exercise the big guns early to avoid getting in elimination games at all?

We likely won’t know starters until 24 hours before (or even fewer), but here’s who may go if both teams rely on their usual rotation.

Kentucky: Trey Pooser (7-1, 3.46 ERA)

  • Pooser got the start for Kentucky’s second game in the SEC Tournament and Regionals, and the first game of the Super Regionals. In his last three outings, Pooser turned in 19 combined innings and allowed a single earned run.

NC State: Sam Highfill (7-2, 5.06 ERA)

  • Highfill got the nod in both Game 1 of the Regionals and Super Regionals. Against Georgia in the Supers, he went six innings, fanned just two batters, but allowed only one run (four hits).

Final Thoughts on Kentucky Vs. NC State Odds

Metrics versus narrative. The thought of leaning away from on-field stats and projections makes even a novice sports better shiver. So, good luck here. And with any game involving NC State. The Wolfpack were +105 to win their own Regional and +120 to win the Supers.

I’m hands-off in this game. Should NC State show the roll and give us some measurable reason to back them in Omaha (other than “they want it more”), then I’ll consider backing them as an underdog in the future. But not in this game.

The men’s baseball team joins the men’s and women’s basketball teams on an incredible 2024 for NC State; both the basketball teams made their respective Final Four!