Today at noon the Kentucky Wildcats once again face their most bitter SEC rival, the Tennessee Volunteers, this time in Knoxville before 24,000 screaming Volunteer fans. That's likely to make a difference, don't you think?
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Volunteers and the Wildcats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||UT|
|Strength of Schedule||#58||#25|
|RPI Top 50||8-0||3-4|
Tennessee has top 50 losses against the Purdue Boilermakers (6), the Vanderbilt Commodores (29) twice, the Kentucky Wildcats (7), and the Florida Gators (46). They have top 50 wins against the Kansas Jayhawks (2) and the Florida Gators (46). All rankings courtesy of Kenpom.com
More after the jump. Just like last time, I did the first part of this analysis and Ken did the second part starting with the position analysis. For more on the Tennessee Volunteers be sure to check out the excellent SB Nation Volunteer blog, Rocky Top Talk.
Due to circumstances beyond our control, the dashboard is not available for this game. Fortunately, we can produce Four Factors analysis courtesy of Statsheet.com:
Four Factors Analysis
The first graph, obviously, is efficiencies, and I have constrained this to the conference season. As you can see by the dark blue line, Kentucky has been more efficient on offense than Tennessee all season long, except for the very beginning of the year. Part of this is no doubt due to the loss of Tyler Smith, but that's the story.
Defensively, the Vols have been up and down. Early in the season they were much better than Kentucky (the sand-colored line represents the Kentucky DE, and the light green, Tennessee. Remember, lower is better for DE), but the Wildcats quickly got on top and stayed there. However, the Volunteers are much closer to Kentucky on defensive efficiency than offensive, and teams typically get a boost in offensive efficiency at home.
Moving on to the four factors, I want to point out that I don't have conference-only factors available this time, so we will be looking at overall. Kentucky shoots the ball better than Tennessee, but turns it over more. UK is also a much better offensive rebounding team, and gets to the line significantly more often. Kentucky has the #30 eFG% in the nation, and the Volunteers #93. Kentucky is second in the nation in OR% vs. the Volunteers #169, and UK is #65 in FT%, while UT is #225.
I know the defensive Four Factors graph isn't available, so I will discuss them from Ken Pomeroy's site. Defensively, the Volunteers are #38 in eFG% while UK is #15. Note that Kentucky has really improved this number over the SEC portion of the season. The Volunteers force many more turnovers than UK as they are #16 in the nation in that stat, while Kentucky languishes at #206. This is largely attributable to the more aggressive, pressing defense that Bruce Pearl plays. Kentucky is a better defensive rebounding club, and puts teams on the line much less than Tennessee. Kentucky, in fact, is one of the national leaders in avoiding opponent free throws, #17 in the nation in that stat.
Looking at a few other statistics of interest, Kentucky and Tennessee are both shooting lousy from the three point line in conference play, 21.7 and 24.5% respectively. Both teams manage similar assist percentages, at 48.2 and 49.2% respectively, as well as steals % at 10.2 and 10.8%. Kentucky is much the best in terms of block%, and is #4 in the nation. The Volunteers use their bench much more than Kentucky, 41% to 29%.
Overall, Kentucky's statistics are significantly superior, as you might expect, but you can also expect the rowdy crowd in Knoxville to give the Vols a boost.
Tennessee Volunteers Basketball Roster
|Wayne Chism||4||F||Starter, major contributor||246||6-9||senior|
|Melvin Goins||21||G||Sometime starter significant contributor||195||5-11||junior|
|Kenny Hall||20||F||Reserve, role player||220||6-8||freshman|
|Scotty Hopson||32||G||Sometime starter, significant contributor||200||6-7||sophomore|
|Bobby Maze||3||G||Starter, significant contributor||195||6-3||senior|
|Skylar McBee||13||G||Reserve, limited role||190||6-3||freshman|
|J.P. Prince||30||G||Starter, significant contributor||205||6-7||senior|
|Cameron Tatum||23||G||Reserve, role player||197||6-6||sophomore|
|Brian Williams||33||C||Starter, significant contributor||278||6-10||junior|
|Renaldo Woolridge||-||G||Reserve, limited role||208||6-8||sophomore|
Position Analysis: Point Guard
Tennessee point guard Bobby Maze provides UK with yet another quick, solid shooting point to contend with. In Rupp Arena against the 'Cats Maze put together a good effort with 15 points on 5-9 shooting (2-5 threes), but had only one assist to three turnovers.
Maze is capable of penetrating, although he doesn't often, choosing to focus instead on distributing the ball around the perimeter, and running the high-low attack Bruce Pearl utilizes a large part of the time.
UK's John Wall put together one of his best efforts of the year versus the Vols in Lexington, scoring 24 points on 7-15 shooting. Wall got into the lane on the Vols, with the result being 12 free throw attempts (making nine).
Wall will once again look to push the pace against whatever type of defense[s] Pearl opts to use.
Position Analysis: Two-Guard
Scotty Hopson, who did not start in UT's game with Florida on Tuesday night (but played 31 minutes), still led the Vols in scoring with 20 points (4-8 threes) in the 75-62 loss.
Hopson is a dangerous player considering his three-point accuracy. His 6'7" height makes him very difficult to faceguard on the shot, besides the fact that he is capable of taking his man off the dribble. Against UK last time out, Hopson grabbed only one rebound and scored 10 points on 4-9 shooting, with the 'Cats not allowing the sharp-shooter any made three-pointers (0-2).
Eric Bledsoe, coming off a solid effort against South Carolina (4-8 shooting), two assists, two blocks, and two steals, will look to reprise the results he got in UK's last game with the Vols: 5-9 shooting (3-6 threes), four assists and 16 points.
Bledsoe, who has recently been settling for the jumper and not penetrating as he is so capable of doing, will be presented with the opportunity to once again make the open three look. His ability to make the shot could go a long way in determining if the 'Cats leave Knoxville with a smile on their faces.
Advantage: Sight Tennessee
Position Analysis: Swing
6'7" J.P. Prince was UT's top rebounder in Lexington, grabbing eight boards (four offensive). He was also UT's top assist man with five, and top turnover man with six, to go along with his nine points.
Prince, who is a difficult matchup on the perimeter due to his size and quickness, is also apt to venture into the paint, presenting opponents with another "big" to contend with. This seems like a real possibility in Saturday's game because of UK's size advantage and the health of forward Wayne Chism.
Darius Miller has been playing much better, both offensively and defensively for the 'Cats of late: In 32 minutes versus South Carolina, Miller grabbed eight rebounds (four offensive), recorded two blocks, and scored seven points. His aggressiveness on both ends of the floor has been readily apparent.
Miller was not a factor in UK's last outing against the Vols; he scored two points with a turnover and a block in limited minutes. Look for Miller to continue his improved play, something Kentucky will need out of the "3" spot to be competitive with the Vols on their home floor.
Position Analysis: Forward
UT's Wayne Chism has been hurting. He played only 15 minutes against the Gators in Gainesville, and was noticably in pain while on and off the floor. The culprit seems to be his hip/leg.
Chism, at 6-9 is similar to Patrick Patterson in many ways: Both can bang effectively on the blocks, or step out beyond the arc and take the three, although Patterson makes the long-range jumper at a significantly higher percentage. Chism owns a number of good moves around the basket, and when healthy, is talented enough to take over a game with his interior defense, offense, and rebounding.
The 'Cats did a good defensive job on Chism in Lexington, limiting him to 12 points on 5-15 shooting (2-8 threes), and only five rebounds.
Patrick Patterson is coming off possibly his best game of the year, something that's been building for the last few weeks. Making 10 of 12 shots, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking a season-high four shots in UK's winning effort versus South Carolina, he is poised to make an impact in Saturday's game against the Vols.
Patterson's combination of inside and outside effectiveness is making him very hard to guard, and his recent focus on the task at hand seems to be fueling his improved play. Add to that the fact the guards, along with DeMarcus Cousins are getting Patterson the ball in a position to score, something that wasn't happening earlier in the year.
Patterson had a less-than-stellar outing in Lexington versus the Vols, going 3-9 from the field (1-2 threes), seven rebounds and 10 points. Look for the big fella to continue his surge with a big game against the Vols.
Advantage: Big Kentucky
Position analysis: Forward/Center
6'10" Brian Williams figures to get the start Saturday, if for no other reason than to offset UK's sizable size advantage in the paint.
Williams played only one minute versus the 'Cats in Lexington; It was only his second game back after a lengthy suspension, but he did start and play 23 minutes against the Gators on Tuesday. He scored four points on 2-5 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds, and committed four fouls.
Williams doesn't have a variety of offensive moves around the bucket, but is a decent defender, capable of changing or blocking shots. His size could give DeMarcus Cousins problems around the basket. But ...
DeMarcus Cousins will have redemption on his mind. Which is a good thing ... I think.
In Lexington, Cousins was at best, discombobulated: Only 2-6 from the floor, 1-8 from the free throw line, four fouls, and five points in 29 minutes of action. And this against a Vol team absent their biggest palyer in Williams.
Cousins though, has played very well since the UT game, not allowing the mind-games some teams utilize to minimize his effectiveness. Cousins is coming off a solid outing against the Gamecocks (yet another double-double), where he scored 19 points on 7-13 shooting, and snagged 11 rebounds.
I expect UK to go to their big men early and often in an effort to establish a paint presence. But beware, I am sure Bruce Pearl have a few "freak" defenses up his sleeve to counter UK's paint advantage.
Advantage: Big Kentucky
Pearl will bring 5'11" guard Melvin Goins, 6'6" guard Cameron Tatum, who did not play in Lexington, 6'8" Kenny Hall, 6'3" Skylar McBee, and 6'5" Steven Pearl off the bench.
Tatum and Goins are both very talented guards. Goins had a nice game in Lexington, scoring 14 points in 19 minutes played.
In their game Tuesday night versus the Gators, Pearl used his bench sparingly, other than Hopson, who normally starts, and Steven Pearl, who played 24 minutes.
UK will bring Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins, and Darnell Dodson off the bench. Liggins, once again on Thursday night, played very well: In 16 minutes he scored seven points on 3-5 shooting (1-2 threes), two rebounds, one assist, and two steals.
In Lexington, UK turned the Vols over 17 times, resulting in 22 Kentucky points. That probably won't happen in Knoxville. In Lexington, UK won the paint battle 30-28, a margin much closer than most prognosticators predicted. With Cousins playing some semblance of a "normal" game, UK should dominate this offensive statistic. In Lexington, UK won the second chance points battle only 13-12, but with Cousins playing some semblance of a "normal" game, UK should dominate this offensive statistic. Do I hear an echo?
In Lexington there were eight ties and 14 lead changes, and with nine minutes remaining, Bruce Pearl's 3-2 zone had the Vols tied 52-52 with Kentucky. But by the 5:03 mark of the second half, UK had built a 66-56 lead, mostly due to their athleticism taking over as well as finding the soft-spot in the 3-2 (hint, hint, the corners). But, even if one finds the vulnerable spot in any given defense, shots still have to be made, and UK did just that.
What Pearl will bring to the floor defensively Saturday is anybody's guess, but I suspect a plethora of changing defensive looks in an attempt to confuse the 'Cats, which could result in unsure offensive moves, i.e. confusion, and turnovers.
But the 'Cats have a definite advantage in the talent department, and DeMarcus Cousins (who has been ill this week) will be highly motivated to display to the Vols the reason he will be a top-5 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, especially after the poor game he had in Lexington.
Thompson-Boling Arena will be loud, and the competition will be intense, but the team that settles the nerves, limits turnovers, and executes their game-plan, wins this game. And it says here ...
Projected Score: Kentucky 75 Tennessee 72