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Tennessee @ Kentucky: Open Game Thread

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This is the official A Sea of Blue open game thread for the Tennessee Volunteers @ Kentucky Wildcats basketball game this afternoon at Rupp Arena in Lexington, February 21st @ 1:00 PM.

Particulars of this game are as follows:

Here we go, the game we have all been waiting for. I say that because of two reasons -- the return of Patrick Patterson, even if a bit hobbled, will restore Kentucky to most of its full strength, and defeating the Volunteers for the second time will be a big notch in the UK belt, and propel them into position to make the NCAA tournament and even improve their likely seed.

We handled the Vols in Knoxville thanks mostly to their inability to guard Jodie Meeks, and a record-setting performance by him. Since then, the Volunteers defensive efficiency has improved somewhat, although their offensive efficiency has been up and down.

This game will be about two things -- Can the Vols score consistently against Kentucky, and how effective will they be at hampering Meeks and Patterson. Last time, they did a great job against Patrick by getting him into some foul trouble and generally making him ineffective. In the end, it didn't matter because Meeks was unstoppable that day, but you have to figure that the Vols are ready for him this time. Given that, we must have some production from the non-scorers, and Patrick Patterson has got to be very effective in drawing fouls and scoring in the post. Tennessee is not built to double-team Patterson and stop Meeks at the same time, so they are going to have to pick their poison. My feeling is that they will pick Patterson, hoping he is still hobbled by injury.

Things Kentucky needs to do well to win:

  1. Score. Tennessee is not going to let Meeks beat them again, and I don't think we can count on more than 15-20 points from him. That means that UK will have to make up at least 10 points from somewhere else.
    Do a good defensive job on Smith and Chism. If we can keep these two below their average, Tennessee will struggle.
    Take care of the basketball. Tennessee is a great stealing team, and UK is a lousy ball-handling team. The combination of those factors really favors the Vols.

Things that will make it hard for Kentucky to win:

  1. Allowing Chism to dominate the defensive glass. Chism is the #18 defensive rebounder in college basketball on defense, and Kentucky really needs a high offensive rebound percentage in this game.
    Allow Tyler Smith to go off. Smith is a great player who can do many things, and UK must keep him in check.
    Failure to get Patterson involved. With the attention paid to Meeks, if Patterson is a threat, UK will get tons of open looks.

Obviously, to say Kentucky needs this game is an understatement. They need it to increase their chances at getting into the NCAA tournament, and they need it to send a message to the Volunteers that the balance of power in the SEC has shifted back toward Lexington. A loss here will put the 'Cats on another losing streak with a road game against a tough Gamecock team coming up. A win here, and UK can withstand a loss on the road, but the potential for another 3-game skid looms very large, a skid that would likely doom the NCAA chances of Kentucky. Must win? Maybe not "must," but the road to the tourney gets rocky, indeed, with a loss here.

Go, Cats!