The Kentucky Wildcats are back in Rupp Arena Thursday night when they face the Tennessee Vols for the second time this season.
The Cats will be seeking revenge for the first matchup when UT stormed back from a 21-point deficit to beat UK 84-77 in Thompson-Boling Arena. It was easily one of the worst losses these young Cats have endured this season, and that loss could have been the breaking point for them.
But instead, UK bounced back with three-straight wins over Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, teams firmly in the running for an NCAA Tournament berth. The Cats have since gone from nearly being unranked to now ranked 14th in both major polls this week as they appear to be hitting their stride.
As for the Vols, their up-and-down season has continued as they continue to look great at home, but struggle mightily on the road. UT is 11-2 at home this season, but 1-11 away from there.
The one consistent for UT this season has been senior guard Kevin Punter. He ranks second in the SEC and 10th in the country with 22.3 points per game. Punter was also key in the Vols' win over UK. His 27 points were the most scored by a Vol against the Cats in 10 years as he made three 3-pointers and was 11-of-12 at the free-throw line.
As good as Punter has been, UT hasn't gotten consistent production from any other single player, not to mention a severe lack of height and size in the paint. Per KenPom.com, Tennessee ranks 347th out of 351 teams nationally in effective height this season (-4.4). Effective height is the average of the center and power forward position, and it's easy to see why UT ranks so low. The Vols have only three players in their rotation over 6-4, but none of them even reach 6-10.
Here is everything you'll need for Round 2 of the Cats taking on the Vols.
Tennessee Volunteers (12-13, 5-7 in SEC) at Kentucky Wildcats (19-6, 9-3 in SEC)
When: Feb. 18, 2016
Location: Rupp Arena
Game Time: 7 p.m. ET
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Sean Farnham and Seth Greenberg
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt (info and affiliates)
Odds: Kentucky opened as a 14.5-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Projected UT Starters
#0 G - Kevin Punter 6-2, 190 lbs, Sr.
#34 G - Devon Baulkman, 6-2, 200 lbs, Sr.
#3 G - Robert Hubbs III, 6-4, 230 lbs, Jr.
#33 F - Admiral Schofield, 6-5, 240 lbs. Fr.
#4 F - Armani Moore, 6-4, 217 lbs, Sr.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs, So.
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs, Fr.
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs, Fr.
#35 F - Derek Willis, 6-9, 220 lbs, Jr.
#00 F - Marcus Lee, 6-9, 224, Jr.
My Prediction: As mentioned above, UT is at a real disadvantage with their lack of size. It also doesn't help that Kentucky is looking for revenge after letting the Vols steal the first matchup. That was a game UK had no business losing, and it will only add fuel to the Cats' fire when they see UT again.
Combined with the Vols' disappearing act on the road, should result in a fairly easy win for the Cats as they continue their "March" towards the tournament.
Final Score: Kentucky 76, Tennessee 61