After two close wins over Georgia in Rupp Arena and on the road against LSU, the Kentucky Wildcats travel to Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville to face possibly their best SEC foe yet in the Tennessee Volunteers.
The Vols come into the game with a 9-4 record and with blood in their eyes, something that is not lost on Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“It’ll be a war,” Calipari said, “It will be good for the guys to feel this.”
Cal hit the nail on the head. It will be a war. Records can be thrown out the window when the Cats and Vols lace ‘em up. This year will be no different. Kentucky comes in looking to go 3-0 in the conference; Tennessee will be looking for it first conference will after starting 0-2 in the SEC.
With that being said, let’s focus on three keys to a Wildcat win in Knoxville Saturday night.
Continued offensive improvement. Over the last nine games, the Cats have gone from averaging 71 points per game to averaging 84.8 over their last nine. This improvement coincides with the extra time over the holidays to refine the Cats play in practice. UK is shooting 49.9% from the floor in that span, up from 45.6 previously. Big Blue is also being efficient on the offensive end as well.
According to KenPom, UK’s offensive rating per possession is 112.8, good for 36th in the country. The Cats are also shooting 36.3% from the three point line, the third best percentage of any Calipari-led team at UK. That’s a definite good sign going forward for the Cats.
Getting defensive. Any coach worth their salt will tell you that when a team plays on the road defense travels. Kentucky is no different. After their disappointing loss to UCLA in New Orleans, the Cats have turned in solid defensive performances in wins over Louisville, Georgia, and LSU.
The Cats have limited their recent opponents to 64.3 points per game (down from 70.5) on 39.6% shooting. The ideal number for the Cats is 55. It is usually a good sign if UK can hold the Vols to 55 points.
The Cats are 63-0 under Calipari when holding their opponents to 55 points and 150-5 when holding opponents under 63 points. Wouldn’t it be nice to go 64-0 tomorrow night?
Limit turnovers. Turnovers can kill any team, especially on the road in hostile environments. Thompson-Boling Arena qualifies as a hostile environment without question. So taking care of the basketball will be at a premium Saturday night for the Cats.
In the last nine contests, Kentucky has taken care of the rock much better, going from 16 turnovers in their first five games to 13.2 in their last nine contests. The difference is simple; Kentucky has matured as an unit.
When you have the youngest team in the country, you’re going to have a learning curve. Guards Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have been more consistent with the ball in their hands, and good point guard play usually translates to good numbers on offense.
Here’s hoping that trend continues.