Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers, two of the top three teams in the SEC, get it on in an ESPN prime-time contest. Of course, ESPN was at Rupp Arena this morning at 11:00 AM for College Gameday, and Kentucky fans responded with a near-sellout crowd of over 22,000 souls.
The Vols are about the only genuine, time-tested rival that Kentucky has in the SEC in basketball, and the rivalry that developed between Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl and UK coach John Calipari when Coach Cal was coaching at Memphis is very similar to the one that developed between former UK coach Rick Pitino and Coach Cal when they were coaching the Louisville Cardinals and Memphis Tigers (respectively) and both their teams were in Conference USA.
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Volunteers and the Wildcats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||UT|
|Strength of Schedule||#63||#33|
|RPI Top 50||6-0||4-3|
Looking at the Volunteers' season so far, Tennessee has losses against the Purdue Boilermakers (6), the USC Trojans (60) the Georgia Bulldogs (90), and twice to the Vanderbilt Commodores (20). Top 50 victories for the Vols include the Kansas Jayhawks (1), the Mississippi Rebels (41), and the Florida Gators (47). Much like Kentucky, Tennessee has done most of its top-50 damage in conference (All rankings are by Kenpom.com).
More after the jump. Just like last time, I did the first part of this analysis and Ken did the second part starting with the position analysis. For more on the Tennessee Volunteers, be sure to check out SB Nation's excellent Tennessee blog (and one of our best blog-friends) Rocky Top Talk.
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.
Four Factors Analysis
After playing several opponents with lesser stats, the Wildcats face a truly worthy foe tonight. From an offensive efficiency standpoint, Tennessee was far better than Kentucky in the early part of the season. Gradually, though, as Kentucky's stellar freshman class developed, the Wildcats overtook the Volunteers.
Looking at the SEC portion of the season moving the left-hand slider over until it shows just the last nine data points, we see that Kentucky has consistently been the better offensive team. Tennessee has had a slightly tougher go of it so far than Kentucky has, playing at Alabama, Georgia and playing Vanderbilt twice. But it still seems that the Vols offense has been noticeably less productive than Kentucky's. In fact, you can see the Tennessee OE indicator well into the red, and Tennessee's adjusted OE from Ken Pomeroy grades out to 108 points/100 possessions, only good enough for 72nd nationally. Kentucky, on the other hand, is 115pts/100p, which grades out to 19th nationally.
Defensively, the story is very different, and much closer. Tennessee has a very strong defense, which has only been rendered as weak as it is on average by a lousy game versus Vanderbilt back on Jan. 27th, which you can see as that spike in UT's graph. Other than that game, the Vols and the 'Cats are very close defensively.
Examining the offensive Four Factors reveals that Kentucky is a better shooting team, which is no surprise when you start guys like Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. But the Volunteers value the basketball much more than the 'Cats, as evidenced by their significantly lower TO%. If UK had a TO% similar to Tennessee's, Kentucky would be a truly dominant basketball team. Kentucky is #2 in the nation in OR%, mostly on the back of DeMarcus Cousins, and Tyler Smith no longer being with the Vols makes this stat strongly favor Kentucky. Kentucky also gets to the line at a much higher rate than the Volunteers.
Defensively, Kentucky again has an advantage, but that stat is slightly deceiving, I think, because the Vols have played much better offensive teams in tougher places than UK so far this season. Tennessee also forces more turnovers with their pressure defense, and rebounds the ball comparably to Kentucky on the defensive end. A major problem for the Vols, though, appears in the high rate they send people to the free throw line, the negative side of their pressing, pressure defense.
In the miscellaneous category, UK shoots a better 3-point percentage but takes less from the arc than the Volunteers. That's consistent with what we've seen in the past out of a Bruce Pearl-coached team. It is important to note, though, that Tennessee shoots three pointers well enough at 33%, which translates to 50% shooting from inside the arc. UK uses their bench less than the Volunteers minutes-wise, which has been true of most of Kentucky's opponents -- Calipari has a tight rotation and plays his best players as much as possible. Tempo-wise, both teams like a track meet, but I think a very fast pace in this game favors the Wildcats in Rupp Arena.
Overall, Kentucky has and advantage in most categories, but none of the advantages are so large that it should give UK fans any real comfort. Tennessee is perfectly capable of beating UK at home, and with the recent addition of Brian Williams back into the lineup, some of these stats may not reflect the true state of the Tennessee team, since they were mostly accumulated while he was on suspension for his days as a gun-totin', weed-tokin' man about Knoxville.
Tennessee Volunteers Basketball Roster
|Joshua Bone||24||G||Reserve, minor minutes||195||6-3||junior|
|Wayne Chism||4||F||Starter, major contributor||246||6-9||senior|
|Melvin Goins||21||G||Reserve, significant contributor||195||5-11||junior|
|Kenny Hall||20||F||Reserve, role player||220||6-8||freshman|
|Scotty Hopson||32||G||Starter, significant contributor||200||6-7||sophomore|
|Bobby Maze||3||G||Starter, significant contributor||195||6-3||senior|
|Skylar McBee||13||G||Reserve, limited role||190||6-3||freshman|
|Steven Pearl||22||F||Reserve, limited role, minor minutes||232||6-5||junior|
|J.P. Prince||30||G||Starter, significant contributor||205||6-7||senior|
|Cameron Tatum||23||G||Reserve, role player||197||6-6||sophomore|
|Brian Williams||33||C||Reserve, significant contributor||278||6-10||junior|
|Renaldo Woolridge||-||G||Starter, role player
Position Analysis: Point Guard
At the point guard spot, Tennessee's Bobby Maze provides the Vols with a penetrator, and ball distributor, who scores when needed. Defensively, Maze is adequate, but UK's John Wall doesn't have to worry about Maze picking his pocket; Maze has only three steals in nine SEC games.
At 6-3, Maze provides size and quickness to the one-spot, but not great shooting. Maze has stayed consistent, though: He's averaging 8.8 points per game overall, and 9.2 points per game in SEC play. Not a consistent outside shooting threat, he's made only 5-19 threes in SEC play (26.3%). Also, Maze's assist totals have dropped recently: Since handing out seven assists versus Vandy five games ago, Maze has dished only six dimes since (1.5 per game). If the game is close at the end, the 'Cats don't want to foul Maze, he's made 16-19 free throw in SEC play.
Maze will try to control the pace of the game by using clock on each possession, so pressuring him into turnovers will be one of the keys to UK dictating pace.
Conversely, the theme found throughout the 'Cats' season is John Wall's need to push the pace. If Wall is able to control the pace of the game, it should result in "lights out" for the Vols.
Wall's other onus is to take care of the basketball: He has averaged 4.8 turnovers per game in his last four contests, versus 6.3 assists per game.
Position Analysis: Two-Guard
UT's Scotty Hopson, a (Hopkinsville) University Heights product, is UT's primary long-range shooting threat. Averaging 12.0 points per game in SEC play, he's shot the ball well all year; 40.0% overall three-point shooting, 38.9% in SEC play (14-36). Long, at 6-7, Hopson should be a great perimeter defender, but at times his heart isn't in the effort, although he has become more effective on the defensive end.
He must be "manned-up" on after the Vols cross half-court. Hopson has crazy range on his shot, and has proved to be a streaky shooter. With space, he'll make 'em, so ball denial to Hopson on the perimeter should be an area of concentration for John Calipari.
Free throw shooting is not an area of strength for Hopson; he makes only 58.5% of his charity stripe tries.
UK"s Eric Bledsoe has recently experienced a precipitous drop in production: In his last five games, Bledsoe has made only 16 of 41 shots (39.0%), and he boasts a "goose egg" for eight over the last three games from long-range.
Advantage: Slight Kentucky
Position Analysis: Off-Guard
Six-seven senior guard J. P. Prince has perhaps been UT's most improved player since the beginning of conference play. The long, athletic Prince has increased his scoring average from 8.1 points per game, to 10.8 points per game; Prince has likewise increased his shooting efficiency from an even 50.0% overall shooting, to 56.7% shooting in SEC games. His rebounding has also seen a considerable jump, from 3.5 rebounds per game, to 5.2 rebounds per game. Tennessee's top assist man, Prince is averaging 3.4 dimes in SEC play.
Although Prince has taken only 17 three-point shots on the year, he's made five of 11 treys in SEC play (45.5%).
Darnell Dodson will once again look to provide UK with a zone buster. Taking and making the three-point shot is Dodson's primary responsibility, and lately he hasn't provided John Calipari with the necessary accuracy: Dodson has missed five of his last six trey tries (13.5%) over the the previous two games, after making eight of 13 long-range bombs over the previous two games (Vandy and Ole Miss).
Position Analysis: Power Forward
Wayne Chism, UT's 6-9 246 lb senior forward/center has turned his game up a notch since the suspension the beginning of SEC play, although his shooting percentage has dropped from 48.9% to 46.3% in SEC contests: He's averaging 16.1 points per game in SEC play, compared to 13.1 points per game overall; Chism is averaging 9.1 rebounds per game in SEC, while averaging 7.0 boards per game overall; he's also increased his offensive rebounding numbers from 2.1 per game (non-conference games), to 2.6 against SEC competition.
At nearly 250 lbs, Chism can be a real physical presence down on the blocks when he's not wandering out to the perimeter, which he is wont to do. He's a decent outside shooting threat, making 35.6% of his three-point attempts on the year, but he's made only 8 of 25 trey attempts in SEC play (32.0%).
Chism will bang, and body-up on UK"s DeMarcus Cousins, but foul trouble for Chism could spell doom for Tennessee, so mindful of over exorbitant contact he will need to be.
Cousins, has of course, been a man-on-a-mission. And more often than not, the mission has been completed, and completed with vigor. Ergo, Cousins represents Excedrin headache No. 1 for UT coach Bruce Pearl. I expect to see a swarm of orange around UK's big man whenever the ball comes near him, and as long as he continues to force his way through the masses and make shots (while drawing fouls), he will be the impetus of the UK offense.
Position analysis: Swing
Six-eight sophomore Renaldo Woolridge adds size to the Tennessee roster, but his scoring production has been meager: Woolridge averages only 2.8 points per game in SEC play. Woolridge has been an adequate rebounder, averaging 3.8 boards per game in conference games, but considering his considerable size, wing span, and athleticism, one would expect Woolridge to be more of a factor both on the boards and in the scoring column.
Woolridge is not much of a three-point threat, having made only 3 of 11 long-range shots (27.3%) in SEC play. Free throw shooting has adversely effected Woolridge's stat line; he has made only 46.2% of his free throws in SEC play.
Patrick Patterson, after averaging only seven shots per game over a five game period, has found his role on the team much more appetizing over the last two UK contests: In the most recent two-game span Patterson has taken 23 shots (11.5 per game).
If he continues to receive the ball in a position to score, he provides the Vols with yet another 'Cat to defend, both on the blocks and the perimeter (he's made three of his last nine three-point shots). Rebounding, a Vol weakness, should be a focal point for Patterson tonight.
Six-eight power forward Kenny Hall will probably play a major role in tonight's contest. Hall brings size, and an ability to score (6.2 points per game in the SEC), defend around the basket, and rebound the basketball (5.2 rebounds per game in the SEC). With Chism needing help to stop Cousins and Patterson down low, Hall's average of 18.7 minutes per game could experience an increase.
Melvin Goins, a 5-11 point guard will back-up Maze, and 6-3 freshman Skylar McBee will provide depth at he two-guard spot. Neither guard shoots the ball particularly well (Goins - 30.4%, McBee - 31.6% in SEC play), but both Vols play very hard, and will scramble for any 50-50 balls. Cameron Tatum, a 6-6 shooting guard provides perimeter depth, but his production has declined since the beginning of SEC play, going from averaging 7.2 points per game, to only 3.6 points per game in conference contests.
Six-ten center Brian Williams, returning from suspension, played only two minutes against Vanderbilt in UT's last game, although I look for him to see greatly increased playing time tonight. Williams, bulky at 278 pounds, rebounds the ball well, averaging 5.1 boards per game, and is capable of scoring around the basket (5.5 points per game). But it's his defense that will be most needed tonight. With UT boasting several long players, Williams is the tallest and biggest Vol, making him a valuable Bruce Pearl commodity in Tennessee's effort to stop UK's productive big men.
Also coming off the bench for UT is 6-5 Steven Pearl. Pearl only plays 11.7 minutes per game, but provides depth at the forward spot.
Coming off the bench for the 'Cats will be Darius Miller, Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson, Daniel Orton, and DeAndre Liggins.
Once again, I highlight the play of Liggins: DeAndre has brought energy, strong defense, and shooting accuracy to the swing position for the 'Cats. Over his last four games, Liggins has made eight of 15 overall shots (53.3%), and five of his last seven three-point tries (71.4%). The elevated level of play he's brought to the floor has resulted in him playing 21.5 minutes per game over those same four games.
Advantage: Slight Kentucky
Although Tennessee is 8-3 since the dismissal of Tyler Smith, his 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game are only the beginning of the problems UT has been faced with. Taking such a talented, multi-threat player off the floor has allowed UT's opponents to concentrate more heavily on stopping the other Vol players, resulting in a drop in offensive production for some performers. And the drop in production has been felt most acutely in the Volunteer scoring column: Averaging 76.7 points per game on the year, the Vols are averaging 69.3 points per game in SEC play (64.0 points per game in road SEC games); The Vols, since shooting 60.8% versus Auburn on January 14, have shot only 40.5% from the field since (195-481); Since that same Auburn game, in which the Vols held the Tigers to only 55 points, the Vols have given up 78 points to Georgia, 85 to Vandy at home, and 90 to Vandy on the road. The shooting percentages the Vols have allowed lately has to be alarming to Bruce Pearl: Holding opponents to 39.0% field goal shooting on the year, the Vols gave up 47.1% shooting to Vandy (on the road), 47.9% to Florida, 56.3% to Georgia, and again, 50.9% to Vandy (at home).
Can UT score with the 'Cats? That's the game-winning question. If UK can keep the game in the 70's or higher, then a GameDay victory should be celebrated tonight in Lexington. If UK can continue its board dominance, a GameDay victory should be celebrated. If UK's DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson continue to dominate the painted areas both offensive and defensively, a GameDay victory should be celebrated.
The chances of all of the above happening ... well, judge for yourself ...
Projected Score: Kentucky 78 Tennessee 63