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Kentucky vs. Tennessee Roundtable and Predictions

Breaking down Round 2 of Cats vs. Vols and making predictions.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The much anticipated rematch between two of the best teams in the country will be in Knoxville on Saturday, as the Kentucky Wildcats face the Tennessee Volunteers for the second time in two weeks.

The game is set to start at 2:00 pm EST and will be aired on CBS.

The last time these two teams met in Rupp Arena, Kentucky showed everyone that they’re a legitimate championship contender. The Cats outplayed the Vols from start to finish and left no question of who was the better team at that time.

With that being said, the Cats had their senior forward Reid Travis for that game, and on Saturday, they will be without him. One thing Kentucky was able to do really well was out-physical the Vols. Without Reid, that’s going to be a bit more challenging.

Nick Richards stepped up big time against the Razorbacks on Tuesday as he grabbed 15 rebounds. Richards and EJ Montgomery are going to have to play big for the Cats to win with Travis being sidelined.

This is a crucial game for Tennessee. If they lose, they have little chance of getting a 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Both teams have a lot to play for, so this should be a fun one!

For the big rematch, the writers here at A Sea of Blue sat at our virtual roundtable and predicted the outcome of Kentucky Wildcats vs. Tennessee Volunteers.

Tj Barnett

This is a huge game for both teams, and it holds major implications for the SEC tournament and the NCAA Tournament. After Tennessee lost to LSU, their chances of a 1 seed became extremely slim. Their only hope is by beating Kentucky.

As for Kentucky, since Duke lost yesterday that puts them one more spot ahead. Another win over Tennessee may give the Cats the edge over Virginia to secure the 1 seed in the South region for the NCAA tournament. Now, UK would have to win their last two games along with making it to at least the SEC Championship game, but it is definitely possible and they control their destiny.

With that being said, I believe Kentucky will be able to escape Knoxville with a win. This past Tuesday against Arkansas should be a nice wake up call to let them know that, on any given night, any team can beat you.

That is the mindset you must have to succeed in the tournament, and one I’m sure John Calipari has nailed into his players’ minds, especially after the lackluster performance against the Razorbacks.

The key for Kentucky winning will be PJ Washington. He had a very bad game against Arkansas and it just wasn’t his night. He was missing his turn around hook shot, missed both of his threes, and just couldn’t get in a rhythm. Expect him to bounce back in a big way against Tennessee.

Prediction: Kentucky 74, Tennessee 72

Jason Marcum

After getting shellacked in Rupp Arena, you better believe the Vols will bring their A+ game when Kentucky comes to Knoxville. The Wildcats haven’t won in Knoxville since 2015, and this will easily be the biggest game Kentucky has ever played at Tennessee under John Calipari.

Never have both Kentucky and Tennessee looked like legitimate title contenders in early March, and never has so much been on the line. Kentucky is probably a 1 seed if Selection Sunday was today, but the margin between them and Tennessee is very narrow, so little that a Vols win Saturday may push them back into that 1 seed.

And with Duke continuing to lose, they may get pushed to the 1 seed in Louisville, where Kentucky or Tennessee may very well end up playing if they are a 2 seed.

Even without the near-disaster against Arkansas, I still thought the Cats would face a major uphill climb to win in Knoxville. If Reid Travis played, I’d feel good about Kentucky’s chances after he helped contain Grant Williams in the first matchup.

Now, PJ Washington is going to guard Williams for most of the game. Very few players in college hoops are better at drawing fouls than Williams, so there’s a lot of potential for PJ to be in foul trouble for long stretches in the rematch.

For Kentucky to win, PJ, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans all have to play great. While all four have had great games this season, it’s been very rare for all four of them to play great in the same game.

The x-factor is one of EJ Montgomery or Nick Richards stepping up. Montgomery played well against Auburn, while Richards had his moments vs. Arkansas, though he had far too many lapses to beat a team like Tennessee in their own building. But if either guy can defend the paint and contest shots at the rim consistently, then Kentucky has a real chance of pulling the upset.

In the end, I think this game is fairly close throughout, but the Vols make enough to plays to come away with a win.

Prediction: Tennessee: 77, Kentucky 70

Aaron Gershon

The rematch the nation has been waiting for is set to tip-off in Knoxville on Saturday. If the Cats want to put any doubts that they’re worthy of a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, Saturday will be their chance to prove it. Both teams are coming off close calls in their Tuesday night match-ups.

Kentucky came back from 15 down in the second half to defeat Arkansas while Tennessee escaped Ole Miss after Grant Williams hit a last-second lay-up. Though Kentucky beat the Vols quite easily at Rupp Arena a little over a week ago, the rematch promises to be much closer. Knoxville is among the toughest places to play in the SEC, and the Cats will be without Reid Travis this time around.

To steal a win, the Cats will need a big game from either Nick Richards or EJ Montgomery and for PJ Washington to play the same way he did the last time the two schools played. If neither of these things happen, the Cats will take a loss Saturday.

If both do or if they even get a halfway decent performance from Richards and or Montgomery and a big day from Washington, they surely can win. I believe that both happen.

Washington and Tyler Herro combine for 45 points and Richards and Montgomery combine for 20 rebounds. This Kentucky team is determined and have thrived on the road. They’ll flex their muscles and show the nation they are as good as anyone in the country.

Prediction: Kentucky 78, Tennessee 71

Drew Brown

The Cats have played a ridiculously loaded schedule this year, but Saturday may present the biggest test to date. Tennessee fans were very present in Rupp Arena when the Vols came to Lexington on Feb 16th. So you can bet on it being a wild environment in Knoxville.

Kentucky really answered the bell in first match-up and basically shut down the inside game of Tennessee. But this time there will be no Reid Travis in the middle, which is obviously going to create some voids. Washington, Richards and Montgomery will have to step up and stay out of foul trouble. Schofield and Williams are proven all-conference caliber players and will be fired up after getting embarrassed last month. The Cats better be fully prepared for a 40 (maybe more) minute war.

If the same PJ Washington that we saw in Feb 16th’s match-up comes to play in Knoxville, then Kentucky will prevail. But I do think it takes a monster night from Washington and anything less will result in a loss. But the sophomore forward has been very consistent the last 10 games and I would expect the same.

This game very well could decide the SEC player of the year award.

Prediction: Kentucky 80, Tennessee 78

Nick Wheatley

Round 2 of the SEC heavyweights is upon us. Tennessee will look to avenge the onslaught Kentucky put on them just a couple weeks ago.

However, this matchup will be much different, as Reid Travis will likely be unavailable. The Cats dominated the Vols in just about every facet last time out, as did PJ Washington. But the absence of Travis will be felt the most in this one. He was brought to Kentucky for his physicality and to match up better with teams like Tennessee.

In the first game, Kentucky dominated the glass and the paint. PJ dominated inside, but that was thanks to Travis doing the dirty work. He moved guys like Grant Williams out of the way on the offensive end, and he guarded Williams on the other end of the floor. This time, PJ will be tasked with both guarding Williams and scoring on him, rather than Admiral Schofield.

That also means Keldon Johnson will be tasked with defending Schofield, which is a bad match-up for the Cats. Add in the fact that Jordan Bone is better than Ashton Hagans, and this game went from being a great match-up for UK to a terrible one.

I guarantee the Vols will look to attack PJ early, with Williams to try and get him in foul trouble or wear him down. PJ will have to hold his ground and not make any silly mistakes. And EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards will have to use their length to bother Tennessee’s big men down low, as well as Bone when he takes Hagans off the dribble.

I think Kentucky can win this game. The Vols have shown increased vulnerability since the first game with Kentucky, and Kentucky has only improved. But the match-up is tougher this time around. And Kentucky will need everyone to step up big time with Travis sidelined.

With that being said, Tennessee is so good at home. I think the Vols will get PJ in foul trouble, bully UK inside, and pull away at the end.

Prediction: Tennessee 75, Kentucky 66

Sam Gillenwater

After completing a 15-point comeback against Arkansas, Kentucky will go on the road to play what could be the biggest game in the SEC this year in Knoxville. With Kentucky missing Reid Travis and Tennessee having struggled since the first matchup earlier this month, it’s safe to say this game will be completely different from the first one.

Kentucky struggled at home against Arkansas on Tuesday night, and it goes without question if they come out the same way on Saturday, it will get ugly.

One of the big keys to the Wildcats first win against the Vols was the pairing of PJ Washington and Reid Travis. Washington scored 23 points while Travis did the dirty work against Grant Williams.

With Reid out, though, Tennessee can attack PJ and force him to play well defensively while also being able to double team him hard whenever he gets the ball. For Kentucky to win, they will have to find scoring options, whether it be players like Tyler Herro or Keldon Johnson, beyond PJ.

Since Tennessee’s trip to Lexington, the Volunteers have struggled. They played poorly against Vanderbilt, lost a close one at LSU with the Tigers missing Tremont Waters, and snuck out a win at Ole Miss on a tough shot by Williams.

Rick Barnes has done one of, if not the, best coaching jobs in the country and his team has an opportunity to make a statement at home against the team that knocked them from atop the AP Poll, but they’ll have to play like the confident, efficient Volunteers from their win streak rather than how they’ve played over their last four. They’re an experienced team looking for revenge, which makes them as dangerous as any team in the country.

Tennessee is going to give Kentucky everything they have on Saturday. The Volunteers want to beat Kentucky when they’re at full strength, but that doesn’t mean they’ll do the Wildcats any favors just because they’re without Reid Travis.

UK has not won in Knoxville over the last three years, and since both teams have controversial losses to LSU, this game has serious implications in the conference and for the tournament.

With all that said, I think Kentucky will pass this test by the skin of their teeth. This team fights and is relentless enough to fight Tennessee until the very end and sneak, and I do mean sneak, out a win in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Prediction: Kentucky 77, Tennessee 76

Jamie Boggs

A month ago, most would have penciled this in as an automatic loss for Kentucky. The Vols were rolling and the Wildcats were just starting to put it together. Things have changed quite a bit, as Kentucky has jumped Tennessee on the 1 seed line and was clicking on all cylinders prior to Tuesday’s letdown vs. Arkansas.

The Vols, on the other hand, seem to still be staggering from when Kentucky punched them in the mouth at Rupp Arena a couple of weeks ago.

However, the Wildcats have not won in Knoxville since 2015. Both of these programs have the best teams that they have had since then, and I sincerely believe that Kentucky has the better roster of the two.

But with Tennessee having revenge on their mind, Reid Travis being out with injury, and the curse of Thompson-Boling sitting in the back of Calipari’s mind, this is going to be a hard one for the Wildcats to bring home.

I think guarding Grant Williams takes too much out of PJ Washington, while Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery struggle in the spotlight, and Kentucky falls in what would be their first loss as an underdog this season (previously beat North Carolina and Auburn).

Prediction: Tennessee 80, Kentucky 72