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What you need to know for Round 2 of Wildcats vs. Volunteers.

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Keion Brooks Jr. Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

Kentucky Basketball vs. Tennessee Volunteers


The Kentucky Wildcats have a big week ahead of them, and it all starts off with a trip to Knoxville on Tuesday night to face the Tennessee Volunteers.

Kentucky is on an incredible run as of late impressing on both ends of the floor. Perhaps none have been as impressive as the offensive masterpiece this team put together against Tennessee in Rupp Arena several weeks ago, all while honoring the late Joe B. Hall.

But this time, things will be very different.

Thompson Boling Arena has not been kind to the Cats as of late, as they have dropped four matchups in Knoxville since the 2016 season. This one will be just as, as not only will the Vols be looking for revenge from the beatdown earlier this season, but UK could very likely be without TyTy Washington available.

If that is the case, this Kentucky team will almost certainly take a step back from their last meeting.

Rick Barnes has himself another top-tier SEC team, as the Volunteers come into Tuesday’s matchup at 18-6 (9-3) on the season. To go with that, they are also a perfect 13-0 at home this season.

With wins over North Carolina, Arizona, and LSU under their belt, this team has proved they have the talent to go and win big games when needed. That is as long as they can score enough, which has trended in a better direction as of late.

After a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Vols are now averaging 74.4 points on 43% shooting from the field, and 35% from three. According to KenPom, they are the 11th-best team overall with the 29th best offense and 6th best defense in the country.

Being led in scoring by Santiago Vescovi at 13.6 points per game, it’s him and freshman guard Kennedy Chandler (13.1 PPG) that are the engines to this team. Both players are shooting over 42% from the field, while Vescovi is also shooting 40% from three on the season.

Besides the two lead guards, it’s really been a toss-up to whom the other player will be to help them offensively. Outside of Vescovi and Chandler, there are three players that average over 8.0 points per game in Josiah-Jordan James, Zakai Zeigler, and Oliver Nkamhoua, the latter of whom is out for the remainder of the season.

James has been going off the last five games, in which he is averaging 15.4 points and about six boards per game, so he’s become much more of a threat than what Kentucky is accustomed to from the junior guard.

It is not offensively though that the Cats will need to be worried about, it is on the defensive end of the floor where the Vols can really make a difference. You don't have to look back far to their matchup against Texas that ended up in a final score of 52-51, in which the Vols fought their way back into the game purely based on their defensive effort. This is where the absence of Washington could come into play.

For Kentucky, this game could very well become a two-man game between Sahvir Wheeler and Oscar Tshiebwe if Washington is unable to go. In the first matchup, Wheeler ended with 21 points on 8/10 shooting to go along with eight assists, while Oscar had a bit of an off day with nine points on 4/8 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds.

That pick-and-roll combo between this duo has proven to be quite successful throughout this season, and forcing doubles on either player as they dive to the rim is going to be key to getting open looks for Kellan Grady, Davion Mintz, and even Keion Brooks in the midrange.

Obviously, this coaching staff had a great game-plan heading into the first matchup against Rick Barnes squad, and it worked to perfection. Now it’s time to see if they can put it all together once again to pick up a big victory in Knoxville.