Tonight's game with the Tennessee Volunteers is even more important than normal. With the Wildcats barely having survived Vanderbilt, and then losing to a white-hot Texas A&M team on Saturday, this is one of those games where a team can right the ship, or go into an early conference swoon. Check out Rocky Top Talk for their preview of this game.
Tennessee is really feeling the pressure right now, too, because they are 0-2 in conference and currently in the midst of a 3-game losing streak.
Here's how the two teams have fared so far, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||TENN||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#53||#43|
|RPI Top 50||2-2||0-5|
Tennessee is without the services of Jeronne Maymon for the entire year, and that is very unfortunate for them. With Maymon in the lineup with Stokes and Hall, the Volunteers have one of the most formidable front lines in the SEC. Without him, they lose their best offensive rebounder and one of their best percentage shooters and low-post scorers. Without him, Tennessee features a 3-guard lineup that has really struggled to shoot the ball all year.
It's ironic, and perhaps dangerous that I mention their shooting, because the last time I did, just a few days ago, the the team I was talking about lit us up for an offensive efficiency of 132 and a 60% effective shooting percentage.
Tennessee has been running mostly a 7- or 8- man rotation most games, but other than Golden, the spells are short. Golden, a starter for the Vols last year, has been in a slump, and is coming off the bench in favor of Jordan McRae. McRae is the Volunteers most efficient scorer and leading 3-point shooter. Naturally, Stokes is the man inside who is most dangerous in the post, and Hall is more of a defender and rebounder.
Yemi Makenjuola has been a solid post reserve for Tennessee. Moore gives them depth at Guard, but does little shooting or scoring, although he is a good passer. He is recovering from a labrum injury that kept him out up until the last three games. Edwards and Chievous have also been in the rotation throughout the year, but lately they have rarely played.
Kentucky is a significantly better shooting team so far this season, and with the absence of Maymon, just as good at rebounding. Tennessee draws a lot of fouls, particularly Stokes, although he only makes about 53% when he gets there. Kentucky comes out ahead in the Four Factors analysis, although that didn't help us against the Aggies.
There should be no mystery to what Tennessee is going to do tonight -- try to get the ball to Stokes in the paint early and often. Tennessee so far this year has gotten virtually the same amount of points from 3 as Kentucky has, around 23%. Most of their scoring is from 2-point range, just as you'd expect with a beast like Stokes on the interior.
Tennessee has been anemic from the perimeter so far this year, but as we saw against Texas A&M, the Wildcats can't bank on that. Golden was a very good 3-point shooter last year, and we all know McBee can shoot it if you give him space. If Kentucky wants to win this game, they have to defend the arc and trust Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein to take care of the interior.
Tennessee does not mind running, either, which means that unlike Texas A&M, they are not going to try to control the pace. One good thing about Tennessee from our point of view is that they have almost never zoned, so don't expect to see zone tonight (although if I were Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, I might have installed one just for this game). Tennessee has a solid interior and perimeter defense, but Kentucky has more athleticism. That should be advantage Kentucky.
Just like the last game, this is a game Kentucky should win. Tennessee has been hobbled by injury this year and is not at full strength, and they have some youth that hasn't been able to develop due to injury. They are vulnerable to Kentucky's length and speed, and the Wildcats need to take full advantage and get this victory.