Kentucky Wildcats (20) @ Tennessee Volunteers: Game Preview

So.  It comes down to this:  The Kentucky Wildcats versus the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville at Thomson-Boling Arena.  The winner gets a bye in the SEC tournament.  The loser plays four days.  Those are the stakes.  Both teams are all in.

Team comparisons as follows:

SEC standings:
W-L Splits: Kentucky Tennessee
Split W-L Pct W-L Pct
Rnk Team W-L Conf Home 15-0 1.0 10-7 0.588
1 Florida 24-6 13-3 Away 2-7 0.222 5-4 0.556
2 Alabama 20-10 12-4 Neutral 4-1 0.8 3-1 0.75
3 Kentucky 21-8 9-6 Conference 9-6 0.6 8-7 0.533
4 Vanderbilt 21-9 9-7 Conf Home 8-0 1.0 3-4 0.429
4 Georgia 20-10 9-7 Conf Away 1-6 0.143 5-3 0.625
4 MState 17-13 9-7 Conf Neutral 0-0 - 0-0 -
7 Tennessee 18-12 8-7 Top 25 4-4 0.5 4-4 0.5
8 Mississippi 19-12 7-9 RPI 1-50 7-5 0.583 7-5 0.583
8 Arkansas 18-12 7-9 RPI 51-100 2-3 0.4 4-4 0.5
10 South Carolina 14-15 5-11 RPI 101-150 5-0 1.0 2-2 0.5
11 Auburn 11-19 4-12 RPI 151-200 2-0 1.0 1-1 0.5
12 LSU 11-20 3-13 RPI 200+ 5-0 1.0 4-0 1.0

It isn't really necessary to hype this game, or talk about the history between these two schools.  Every Kentucky fan knows that Tennessee is the only true basketball rivalry left for the Wildcats in the SEC.  Arkansas used to be one.  Florida has its moments, but they have nothing like the history, passion and pathos that the Tennessee Volunteers and the Kentucky Wildcats have. 

Border war.  Hatfields and McCoys.  This is the battle of the rednecks, the war of the moonshiners.  This is a gen-yooo-wine feud between hillbillies.  Li'l Abner, Snuffy Smith, Ma and Pa Kettle and all that.  This is the pure mid-South kind of a clash that would make a good comic strip, and better drama when there is something at stake.  This game, there are stakes aplenty.

Be sure to visit the SBNation's Tennessee Volunteers blog (and our dear friends) Rock Top Talk for the Volunteer perspective on the game  There is no better place on the entire Internet to find out what is going on just south of our border.

Personnel

Tennessee Volunteers Basketball Roster


# Pos. Comments W H College
Joshua Bone 24 G Major Reserve
197 6-3 senior
John Fields 25 F Starter, 1.5 blocks/gm 222 6-9 senior
Melvin Goins 2 G Starter, 32%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 Starter,  leading scorer, 39% 3P, leading TO 200 6-7 junior
Michael Hubert 10 G Rarely plays 205 6-2 senior
Jeronne Maymon 34 F Reserve 258 6-7 sophomore
Skylar McBee 13 G Major reserve, dangerous big-shot maker
184 6-3 sophomore
Jordan McRae 1 G Possibly still unavailable for disciplinary reasons
173 6-6 freshman
Steven Pearl 22 F Reserve 235 6-5 senior
Tyler Summit 14 G Rarely plays 175 6-0 freshman
Cameron Tatum 23 G Starter 192 6-6 junior
Brian Williams 33 C Not expected to play -- back injury
272 6-10 senior
Renaldo Woolridge - F Likely out due to ankle injury
212 6-9 junior

 

Injuries

Tennessee

Brian Williams -- Likely out with back problems

Jordan McRae -- Likely suspended for disciplinary reasons

Renaldo Woolridge -- Nagging ankle problems make him doubtful.

Kentucky

No known injuries

Four Factors Analysis

This is a split -- Kentucky wins the shooting percentage and turnovers.  Tennessee wins offensive rebounding and free throw rate percent.

Overall Analysis

Matchups

Center:  Advantage Kentucky.  John Fields versus Josh Harrellson -- Fields is more athletic, Harrellson is a better rebounder.  Harrellson is also better at making garbage plays, and hustles more consistently.

Power forward:  Advantage push -- There is really not that much difference between Tobias Harris and Terrence Jones.  Jones has had a better year, but not by much.  Both are big, skilled players who can score and rebound.

Small forward:  Advantage Tennessee -- Scotty Hopson has been streaky, but when he is good, he is better than Darius Miller, especially given Miller's tendency to disappear on the road.  Hopson is Tennessee's most dangerous player.

Shooting guard:  Advantage Kentucky -- The tandem of DeAndre Liggins and Doron Lamb is very potent, and Tennessee cannot match it.

Point guard:  Advantage Kentucky -- Melvin Goins is no match for Brandon Knight, even though Goins is a very good player in his own right.  Defensively, though, Goins is better than Knight, and that makes this call tougher than it ought to be.

Game analysis

Kentucky has a big bugaboo in this game, namely it is away from :Rupp Arena where they are comfortable.  The Wildcats easily handled the Volunteers at home, but Kentucky has struggled on the road all year, and a sold-out arena in Knoxville seems an unlikely place for these struggles to end.

The flip side of that coin is the fact that the Volunteers are only 3-4 in their home arena in the SEC this year, and considering that the Volunteers have beaten the likes of Pittsburgh, Villanova, Georgia and Vanderbilt away from their home arena this season, the schizophrenia of Tennessee is unmatched anywhere in the NCAA.

Various theories exist as to why Tennessee is so inconsistent, and most of them revolve around the NCAA problems Bruce Pearl has had this season.  Nevertheless, Tennessee remains one of the deepest, most talented teams in the country, and regardless of their inconsistency, they are a threat to beat anyone in the nation, virtually anywhere in the land.

Which team will show up today?  Nobody knows, not even Tennessee themselves.  The numbers say that Tennessee is the best offensive rebounding team in the conference, but only 9th in 3-point shooting and 10th in free throw shooting.  A team that can hang in with the Volunteers for the whole game have a good chance to pull it out, as evidenced by the Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi games that were very narrow losses.

It's a testament to the toughness of the SEC East that the Volunteers find themselves in a position to actually finish second if they manage to beat Kentucky today, and get the East #2 seed for the SEC Tournament.  Even though they seem like an NCAA tournament team, albeit a relatively low seed, the Volunteers may actually be in a position to toss their NCAA tournament bid into the dustbin if they lose to Kentucky and drop the first-round SEC tournament game -- very few 14-loss teams make it into the NCAAs, even with the Vol's impressive #3 SOS and #33 RPI.

For Kentucky, this game is the single most important to their NCAA seeding.  Lose this, and a 5-seed is almost assured, no matter what happens from here on.  Win, and win through until next Sunday, and the 4-seed becomes a real possibility.  Kentucky therefore carries the fate of their season in their own hands, as well as the #2 SEC seed from the East.

To win this game, Kentucky must negate the Volunteer's advantage on the offensive glass, either by forcing turnovers or doing a better job rebounding than is their wont.  Given how these two teams have played all year, this contest is sure to be yet another very close affair at the end that can go either way.  It is a chance for the Wildcats to expunge the demons that have bedeviled them on the road, and a chance for Tennessee to notch yet another top 25 victory.

Pregnant with all kinds of ramifications, this final bout of the SEC season is, for these two teams, their biggest game.  Given the inherent advantages of the home court, Tennessee would seem to have the hypothetical edge, but their mercurial nature makes that gamble a risky one.

Storyend_dingbat_medium

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