Remember when the Kentucky Wildcats were struggling to find answers for its sputtering offense?
Yeah, me neither.
The Cats cruised to another easy win Tuesday night in Nashville, handling the Dores by a score of 78-66 in a game the road team led by 28 at one point.
After improving their season record to 13-3, UK has now climbed up to 8th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric for all of Division I programs. They’re also now ranked 8th overall on KenPom and really starting to look like a Final Four contender.
Oscar Tshiebwe has emerged as a genuine National Player of the Year candidate after pouring in 59 points and snatching 30 rebounds over the last two contests.
Many folks in America are learning what the Big Blue Nation already knew — Oscar isn’t a machine — but he’s pretty dang close.
There isn’t a player in the country who’s proven that they can fill the stat sheet up like he can.
The consistency that Tshiebwe has shown over the first 16 games of the season bodes well for a run at the SEC regular season and tournament championship.
In fairness, three of UK’s last four opponents are bottom-tier SEC teams and there’s no denying that the Cats still need to rack up some quality wins.
They’ll have a chance to do just that when the No. 22 Tennessee Volunteers come to Rupp Arena Saturday.
The game will tip off at 1:00 pm ET and can be viewed on ESPN.
The Vols returned some familiar faces for the 2021-2022 season — including Santiago Vescovi and John Fulkerson.
Vescovi leads the Vols in scoring at 13.6 points per game, while Fulkerson has developed somewhat of an SEC villain reputation, at least in the eyes of Kentucky fans.
One of the more entertaining matchups of the entire conference schedule should be watching Oscar Tshiebwe battle Fulkerson in the paint.
John Calipari will also be tasked with game-planning for former McDonald’s All-American guard Kennedy Chandler.
If you remember, Chandler was once a major target for Kentucky before ultimately choosing to play for Rick Barnes and the Vols. He’s very close to leading his team in scoring, trailing Vescovi by just 0.2 points per game. Chandler’s 13.4 point average is one of the tops in the SEC for freshman.
I had the opportunity to see him play in high school multiple times, and he’s a special player.
If Sahvir Wheeler is unable to go, containing Chandler will be much tougher for Kentucky to accomplish.
Wednesday evening on his call-in show, Calipari provided an update on Wheeler’s status.
“He was working out today. I looked out the window — he was just doing his own thing. He seems to be getting better. We’ll see.”
I guess you can call that an update. Calipari is notorious for providing any information with substance when it comes to an injured player.
Obviously, TyTy Washington has thrived in Wheeler’s absence. But against a good team like Tennessee that you really need to be beat — having Sahvir Wheeler available is critical.
Keeping the offense flowing could be an issue against the Vols.
Tennessee ranks 2nd nationally in adjusted defense on KenPom. Just a week ago, Kentucky battled LSU, the No. 1 rated defense, accordingly to KenPom.
One under-the-radar storyline to watch is Justin Powell’s return to the Bluegrass state. The former North Oldham star signed with Auburn in the 2020 class, then entered the transfer portal after a promising first year.
At one point, it looked like Kentucky was going to land Powell, but that didn’t work out, and he ultimately landed at Tennessee.
However, things haven’t been great for Powell, averaging just 5.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game. He didn’t attempt a shot in this week’s win over South Carolina and attempted just one in last week’s loss at LSU. Powell did score 11 points in the Vols’ 77-73 home win over then-No. 6 Arizona.
No matter what, it’s always a great environment when Kentucky and Tennessee battle in any sport.
Kentucky Basketball vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Time: 1 pm ET on January 15th
TV Channel: ESPN has the TV coverage.
Online Stream: WatchESPN, the ESPN app, or use a free trial of fuboTV.
Location: Rupp Arena, Lexington Kentucky
Replay: SEC Network (check local listings) or WatchESPN
Listen: UK Sports Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt.
Odds: DraftKings has Kentucky favored by 5.5 points with an over/under of 142.5. ESPN’s matchup predictor has Kentucky’s chance of winning at 69.4%, while KenPom gives the Cats a 66% chance of winning. Barttorvik projects Kentucky to be a 3.5-point favorite.
Predictions: KenPom projects a 74-69 win for the Cats, while Barrtovik is going with a 73-70 win for the home team.