The second clash of Kentucky-Tennessee is here, as the Wildcats travel to Knoxville for another round with the Volunteers.
Back in February, Kentucky dismantled Tennessee with a 17-point victory in Lexington.
However, this Saturday will be a much different environment.
The seventh-ranked Tennessee Volunteers are struggling heading into Saturday’s game, especially considering they’re turning in a net total of negative five points over their last four games. Tennessee first lost to the Kentucky Wildcats before barely holding on at Vanderbilt. The Volunteers then followed with an overtime loss at LSU and narrowly won at Ole Miss on Tuesday.
So while Tennessee is far from playing their best basketball of the season, Kentucky will also “limp” into this primetime outing. However, their “limp” is more literal than figurative.
Starting center Reid Travis remains out with a knee sprain while starting shooting guard Tyler Herro aggravated his Achilles/ankle during Tuesday’s win over Arkansas. Through the recent struggles of starting point guard Ashton Hagans and Tennessee’s defense appears to have one concern: PJ Washington.
Washington was doubled, even tripled, for what seemed like every possession on Tuesday against Arkansas. While that lead to a three-point clinic by Herro, that formula most likely won’t come as easy on the road. And unless Hagans can step up, it’s going to make it even easier for the Vols to pack the paint and shut down Washington.
Tennessee’s Grant Williams is one of the more physical players in the country, and with Travis out, will draw the defensive attention of Washington. Either Washington plays the game of his life (at both ends) or the Wildcats will need significant bench production to remain afloat in this game.
The polls and rankings suggest this is a close matchup on paper, and advanced stats agree. KenPom ranks Kentucky No. 6 overall, No. 12 in offensive efficiency and No. 9 in defensive efficiency. This has become a Kentucky team that get beat just about anyone in a defensive struggle or an offensive shootout.
The Vols, however, tend to win games with their offense. They rank No. 8 overall on the strength of their No. 3 offensive efficiency. Their defense leaves more to be desired, as they rank No. 37 in defensive efficiency.
The first time, Kentucky’s defense controlled the game while the offense erupted and lead the way to an 86-69 win for the Wildcats. Expect this one to be much closer and come down to the final minutes.
Tennessee opened as a 2.5-point favorite, about the same spread as game time of the first time these two teams met. It’s the Vols who are slightly favored this time around, but Kentucky is 2-0 as an underdog this season.
- 16-12 vs. the spread this season
- 2-0 vs. the spread as underdog
- 14-9 vs. the spread following a win
- 11-8 vs. the spread with 2-3 days off
- 6-2 vs. the spread as road team
- 1-0 vs. the spread as road underdog
- 9-6 vs. the spread against SEC teams
- 13-13-1 vs. the spread this season
- 12-11-1 vs. the spread as favorite
- 13-11 vs. the spread following a win
- 8-12 vs. the spread with 2-3 days off
- 6-8-1 vs. the spread as home team
- 6-8-1 vs. the spread as home favorite
- 7-8 vs. the spread against SEC teams
Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated is siding with the home team in a 77-74 nail biting finish.
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf is on the opposite fence, though, predicting Kentucky to complete their sweep of Tennessee.
However, Medcalf’s colleagues, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Jordan Schultz, agree with Beller that the Volunteers will defend home court.
All five of CBS Sports’ experts are picking the Vols, while two of them think Kentucky covers the 2.5-point spread.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index is giving Kentucky just a 38.5% chance of victory on the road.
KenPom gives the Cats a 41% chance of winning and projects a final score of 73-71.
Four of our seven staff picks went in favor of Kentucky.
Grant Williams and PJ Washington will rightfully headline this matchup, but star wings Admiral Schofield and Keldon Johnson will also go head-to-head. The two are exceptional offensive talents but their defense on each other could very well decide the outcome of Saturday’s game.
Jordan Bone and Ashton Hagans is another matchup to keep your eye on, with the rotation of EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards being key for Kentucky’s defense of the rim. The Wildcats appear to be one man short of a victory here, which should lead to a close game but ultimately a loss for head coach John Calipari.
Final score: Tennessee 78, Kentucky 76