Unfortunately, the Cats are coming into this one with their backs against the wall. After the nail-biting loss to LSU, this game against Tennessee is almost a must-win if they want to stay in the conversation of a high 2 seed or even a 1 seed.
One of the biggest keys of this game will be the second half. The Cats have been outplayed in the second half for two-straight games. They cannot do this against the explosive Tennessee offense, or they will lose handily at home.
Tennessee is coming in and looking to stay on top of the college basketball world as winners of 19 straight. Despite Duke continuing to power through wins, including their outrageous comeback against Louisville Tuesday night, Tennessee has managed to remain No. 1 in the country for quite some time.
Although, if the Vols want the ultimate respect, they’ll need to get a victory in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
For the big game, our writers here at A Sea of Blue have come together to offer their analysis and prediction of the outcome:
So, Tuesday night sucked. But the Cats get a chance to redeem themselves in a big way. The No. 1 team in the country is coming to town for College GameDay.
Tennessee is a dangerous team. They get nearly 90% of their scoring from upperclassmen, so they feed off the experience. And Kentucky fans should know every single one of them because it feels like they’ve all been there forever.
These two teams matchup pretty well across the board. Grant Williams is of course the Vol’s biggest threat, but it doesn’t stop with him. Admiral Schofield is another brute that can extend to the three-point line.
Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, and Jordan Bowden round out the five that average double figures for UT. This team can score and they can score in a lot of different ways. Sound familiar?
This is a very good basketball team, and UK is going to have to be locked in to knock off the nation’s top-ranked team. But last year, this same Tennessee team barely won at Rupp at the buzzer. And this Kentucky team is much better than that one.
I think these teams are extremely similar and will split the season series. That means the best bet is both teams win at home, but the games will come down to the wire.
Prediction: Kentucky 76 Tennessee 73
The LSU game was heartbreaking. To be up on a team by eight at halftime only to see the Tigers come back and get a game-winning tip in at the end is devastating. However, it will be a great lesson for this team going forward. Second-half play is something we’ve seen Kentucky struggle with over their last few games, and against LSU, it came back to bite them.
Tennessee is extremely hot right now, and they’re vying for the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. They have more momentum heading into this game than Kentucky does, and so far this season, they’ve looked like the better team. This is a must-win for Kentucky if they want to maintain their high seed predictions.
Despite that fact, I don’t see them winning this one. I expect Tennessee to come in and make a statement against Kentucky.
Prediction: Tennessee 69 Kentucky 66
Following their loss to LSU that snapped their 10-game win streak, Kentucky can’t hang their heads with Tennessee coming in town on Saturday. It was a missed call that cost the Cats an opportunity in overtime, but the fact of the matter is that there’s nothing to be done about it now besides rule changes in the offseason. Even without that call, the Wildcats left the door open far too long against a team like LSU and will have to correct it quickly before the Volunteers stroll into Rupp.
LSU took advantage of Kentucky in the second half. The Wildcats didn’t score as effectively as they’d gotten used to, they turned the ball over far too many times and allowed too many points in transition and on the offensive glass.
The Cats beat the Tigers on the glass by seven and the offensive glass by 6, but it felt like LSU scored on every one of their putbacks and tip-ins (including the controversial game-winner). Defensively, Kentucky will have to be better because even with how explosive the Tiger’s offense is and was, the Vol’s offense is better.
Tennessee’s program is on the opposite side of the spectrum when compared to Kentucky’s. Tennessee is full of veterans that are skilled and experienced within conference play, while Kentucky relies on underclassmen production other than an outlier in Reid Travis.
The Wildcats have the most storied history in college basketball, while Tennessee is enjoying their longest stretch of sustained success in their program’s history. The Volunteer’s offense is averaging 85 points and 20 assists per game, so Kentucky will have their hands full stopping Tennessee on the offensive end.
If Kentucky can slow down Tennessee, I think they have the best chance of anyone to beat the Vols in the conference. Washington, Travis, and Richards match up well with Williams, Schofield, and Alexander.
If Hagans, Herro, and Johnson can keep Bone, Turner, and Bowden from going off, I think the Wildcats can sneak one out at home. Since Kentucky hasn’t won in their last three trips to Knoxville, this is their best shot at making a statement.
Coming off the way they lost to LSU, this group will be motivated to get a win, even if it’s by the skin of their teeth like I think it will be.
Prediction: Kentucky 79, Tennessee 75
The Cats are in danger of losing consecutive home games for the first time since the Billy G era. To make matters more troubling, Tennessee is straight up elite and it will take a full 40 minute effort to win.
The first obvious key to victory for UK will be limiting Grant Williams who is the leading scorer in the conference at right around 20 ppg. I think it’s wishful thinking that Kentucky can completely stop him but containing him is important, specifically limiting his output at the free throw line, which is where he does a lot of his damage.
From Kentucky’s perspective, getting Ashton Hagans back on track is a must. The LSU game revealed that UK can only thrive under his leadership. I expect Hagans to get back to his stellar play and make things difficult on UT’s back court.
This one will be contentious but I don’t see this group of players letting two in a row slip away at home.
Prediction: Kentucky 79, Tennessee 75
The Wildcats suffered a tough loss Tuesday night, but it is a quick turnaround as the top-ranked team in the country is headed to Rupp Arena as part of College GameDay on Saturday.
I believe that this is a very good matchup for Kentucky, seeing that their struggles this season have come against teams with a lot of length inside, just like LSU had. However, Tennessee isn’t built like that, and I think this is going to be a great game for Reid Travis to dominate inside.
Also, I now feel more confident in this game after Kentucky lost to LSU, as I think the Vols are going to face a mad group of Wildcats Saturday night, and I believe they will get the job done.
Prediction: Kentucky 74, Tennessee 69
This has quietly turned into one of the better rivalries in college basketball, and there’s no question it’s the SEC’s best. Since 2013, Kentucky and Tennessee are tied at 5-5 in the series.
The rivalry reached a new level last year with the last-second thrillers in Rupp and the SEC Tournament. Yet, none of those games will come with as much hype as Saturday’s clash will, and there’s a good argument it’s the biggest Vols vs. Cats matchup in the history of the series.
Even though Kentucky lost Tuesday, they still have a very real shot at getting a 1 seed, but that requires a win over the Vols this week. Tennessee, meanwhile, has one of their best teams in program history, as evidenced by their 19-game winning streak, which includes a win over No. 3 Gonzaga.
It also helps that Kentucky tends to do well in the situation they face this week (though one of these losses was to Tennessee last season):
Since Rupp Arena opened in the 1976-1977 season, Kentucky has played a home game within 4 days of losing a home game 21 times. Kentucky is 18-3 (.857) in those games, with an average margin of victory of 17.7 points and an average margin of defeat of 6 points.— Corey Price (@coreyp08) February 14, 2019
But as important as this game is to Kentucky, Tennessee is simply a better team right now with the most balance of any team the Cats will have faced this season outside of Duke.
Most of the focus is on Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, one of the best tandems in college basketball. However, the trio of Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone has made improved dramatically from last season, when they were typically liabilities in Tennessee’s biggest games.
Any one of those three can light it up from deep, and while Kentucky’s three-point defense is improving, it’s a whole different ballgame with five capable shooters on the floor. Even Ashton Hagans has been struggling one defense lately, so it’s hard to see Kentucky containing those three while limiting Williams and Schofield in the paint.
This is easily the best team Kentucky has played since Duke, and even in the friendly confines of Rupp, I think the Vols come out on top. One thing I will add is Calipari teams have typically
Prediction: Tennessee 76, Kentucky 72
I’ve been sitting here trying to remember when the UK/UT game was so hyped and meant so much. Without question this is the biggest game UT has played and the second biggest game the Cats have had since Duke.
I know many UK fans have a sour taste in their mouth from the LSU tip in that shouldn’t have been but I kinda like it. Here’s why. The Cats will be laser focused on the Vols after the way they lost. Nothing can serve a team better than a loss to get attention.
I think the Cats length and their ability to defend at all five positions will serve as problems for the Vols. If Ashton Hagans can give UT point guard Jordan Bone problems all night, the Cats will be in good shape.
The game also being at Rupp is an advantage. I expect the 24,000 faithful to be at full throat from pregame to coach Cal's postgame.
I expect the dog fight of dog fights Saturday.
Prediction: Cats 70, Vols 68