The Tennessee Volunteers dispatched the Mississippi Rebels handily last night, dealing a perhaps fatal blow to the NCAA tournament hopes of Ole Miss and further polishing Tennessee's already sterling NCAA Tournament résumé.
For the third time this season, the Vols and the 'Cats engage in basketball combat. This is the rubber match between these two rivals, and it is fitting that they face off in "neutral" floor the SEC Tournament. Normally, Kentucky has almost a home-court advantage in cases like this, but because the SEC Tournament is in Nashville, I expect a really strong Volunteer presence today.
The games these two teams played coming into this game could not be more different. Kentucky struggled to beat a game but under-talented Alabama Crimson Tide team, and Tennessee easily handled the more talented Ole Miss Rebels. Based on those two games alone, you have to have a significant bit of concern if you are a Wildcat fan. The Volunteers are playing really good basketball right now, and Kentucky, based on their last couple of efforts, not so much.
More after the jump
As usual, we have our game dashboard, and as always, we thank Sylvar for putting it together:
Four Factors Analysis
Move that left-hand slider over to show about the last five games, and what we see there is not whatsoever encouraging as far as efficiency goes. UT has been less efficient than Kentucky offensively, but they have been steady and amazingly consistent. Kentucky has been up, down and seems to have leveled off a bit.
But the defensive efficiency is where we need to worry. UT is significantly better than UK lately, holding opponents to around 88 points/100 possessions, or under .9 points/possession. That, combined with UK's recent up and down 3-point shooting, really give me cause for concern.
A quick look at the Four Factors on offense reveals nothing too worrying, and it is notable that the Vols are turning the ball over more than UK is right now. In fact, Kentucky is in the 17% turnover range, which should mean that they are beating everybody's brains out. The reason they aren't is that the 'Cats are no longer dominating the offensive glass. In fact, they have been beaten on the offensive glass three games in a row. The good news is that we dominated the Volunteers in Knoxville in the area of offensive rebound%.
Defensively, the Vols have been better, especially lately. They are holding teams to 42% eFG%, and last game in Knoxville, they held the 'Cats to a dismal 37% eFG% while shooting 53% themselves. It's also important to note that the Vols are taking better care of their defensive boards right now than the Wildcats are, although they do tend to put teams on the line a lot, and that has really been the difference for Kentucky in the last few games.
As far as the miscellaneous stats go, there isn't much difference to talk about. Both teams are shooting respectable percentages from three, but UK had a really bad game yesterday while Tennessee had about an average day from the arc.
Tennessee Volunteers Basketball Roster
Volunteer Player Stats
This is going to be a tough game for both teams. Tennessee has the most to gain by winning this game, as defeating the Wildcats would no doubt do wonders for improving what already figures to be a pretty high seed. I give the motivation edge, therefore, to the Vols.
As far as current team status is concerned, Tennessee seems to have reached their maximum effectiveness on both sides of the court, while Kentucky seems to still be searching for consistency. That is mostly due to the maturity of the Tennessee team, and the youth of the Wildcats. But time is running out for Kentucky to find their game, and if they don't find some answers in this game, they will have an extra day to ponder the matter at home.
This game, to me, looks like a critical moment in Kentucky's development pre-tournament. They are facing a top 15 team in a neutral site with solid fan support from both sides, something they will run into in the NCAAs after the second or third round. This is a game between two foes who know each other, and who are well matched at every position, including the bench. If the Wildcats lose here, we may have to revise our high expectations for the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky is out of time. This is one of their final exams before the Big Dance, and failing this one will bode ill for UK's tournament prospects. But if the 'Cats succeed, and then follow that success up with a win on Sunday, it could indicate that Kentucky is finally ready for the Tournament.
No prediction today. This is a pick-em game for me, even though the Wildcats are favored by 2.5 points.