Tonight, the Tennessee Volunteers come in to Rupp Arena to face the Kentucky Wildcats. Mike Slive has allowed Bruce Pearl out of the virtual cage he has been in for most of the SEC season just in time to take over the helm of Tennessee when they travel up I-75 to meet the 'Cats in battle on the hardwood for the 211th time. The historical record of this rivalry currently stands at 144-66 in favor of the Wildcats, who look to earn their 145th victory tonight.
Let's look at the SEC standings and compare the two teams overall:
|5||South Carolina||13-8||4-4||Top 25||3-0||1.0||3-1||0.75|
Both Tennessee and Kentucky are coming off close losses, the Volunteers to the Alabama Crimson Tide at home, and the Wildcats to the Florida Gators on the road. The winner in this contest claims third place alone in the conference overall, and second in the East. The Wildcats are currently on a two-game losing skid, while the Volunteers just suffered their first loss in five SEC games.
Tennessee Volunteers Basketball Roster
|Joshua Bone||24||G||Starter for Hopson||197||6-3||senior|
|John Fields||25||F||Starter, 1.5 blocks/gm||222||6-9||senior|
|Melvin Goins||2||G||Starter, 36%3P, leading assist, leading steals||180||5-11||senior|
|Trae Golden||11||G||Major reserve, 2nd leading assists||207||6-1||freshman|
|Kenny Hall||20||F||Minor reserve||215||6-8||sophomore|
|Tobias Harris||12||F||Starter, 2nd leading scorer, leading rebounder||226||6-8||freshman|
|Scotty Hopson||32||G||Normal starter, questionable, leading scorer, 37% 3P, leading TO||200||6-7||junior|
|Michael Hubert||10||G||Rarely plays||205||6-2||senior|
|Skylar McBee||13||G||Major reserve, dangerous big-shot maker
|Jordan McRae||1||G||Unavailable due to disciplinary reasons||173||6-6||freshman|
|Tyler Summit||14||G||Rarely plays||175||6-0||freshman|
|Brian Williams||33||C||Major reserve, 2nd leading rebounder, leading OR, foul prone||272||6-10||senior|
The volunteers spread out their scoring with 3 players averaging double-digit points and five players averaging 7 or more. Most of the passing, though, is concentrated in Melvin Goins and his backup, Trae Golden. Tobias Harris and Brian Williams do the majority of rebounding, although 5 other Volunteers average 3 or more rebounds per game.
Scotty Hopson has missed some time due to a sprained left ankle, but is expected to play tonight. He may be somewhat limited, however.
Jordan McRae has been suspended indefinitely for disciplinary reasons and will not be available tonight.
Kentucky has no known injuries.
Kentucky is the better shooting and ballhandling team, while the Volunteers are better on the offensive glass and getting to the line. Getting to the free throw line has been a major issue for Kentucky during SEC play, and that stat needs to improve.
I have called the last two games huge, so I'm not even going to bother with this one. Tennessee is always a big game, but more importantly, it's a home game, and the Wildcats need to take care of home court even if they cannot seem to get many wins away from it.
With that in mind, and the emphatic remonstration that Calipari inflicted on the team during the airplane ride home from Gainesville this weekend, it seems likely that the Wildcats will be highly motivated in this one. As is usually the case when Kentucky gets behind the 8-ball as they are now, Rupp Arena will undoubtedly be rocking as one of the more bitter foes in the SEC show up on the Rupp Arena floor.
In this game, Kentucky will need to find that magic that has abandoned them over the last few games when it comes to ball movement and hitting big shots. Additionally, this team comes in off two of its worst defensive performances in of the year versus the Gators and Mississippi Rebels. Both games, the defensive efficiency for Kentucky was well into the triple digits, and every time that has happened this year, a loss was the result.
In addition, Kentucky has been somewhat inefficient offensively lately, largely due to the combination of a relatively high turnover rate combined with generally poor offensive rebounding. Hopefully those road woes will be cured by the friendly crowd and gentle ministrations of Coach Cal tonight. A win in this game, and the Wildcats are back into the thick of the SEC race, but this game is just the first step.
The major concerns from Tennessee will be offensive rebounding and physicality, two things the Volunteers bring plenty of. Tennessee is #1 in the league in OR%, and Kentucky finds itself in 9th. Kentucky must not let Tennessee dominate them on the offensive glass tonight, or it will be a very tough game to win.
Tennessee and Kentucky are even in points per possession in the league at 1.04, but UK is slightly better defensively at 0.93 compared to the Vols' 0.95. Both teams are in the top tier of the SEC defensively, though.
Finally, if Kentucky can get back to their normal ballhandling efficiency, they have an advantage over the Volunteers in that area. Tennessee is one of the worst ballhandling teams in the SEC, but they force a lot of turnovers and are currently 2nd in seals %.
This game is a test of wills. Kentucky is plenty good enough to defeat the Volunteers convincingly, but will they let themselves do it by playing tough, physical basketball against a team built to play tough, physical basketball? There is no doubt Tennessee is happy to get their head coach back, but Kentucky must prove themselves more determined and tougher if they are going to come out ahead tonight.