The Kentucky Wildcats will enter Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday coming off back-to-back historic losses. Going up against a 5th-ranked Tennessee Volunteer team, it will be a tough task to put an end to the losing streak.
Tennessee is playing their best basketball of the season, while Kentucky is playing their worst basketball of the season. This leads the Volunteers to be a heavy favorite at home, a place where Kentucky has struggled of late, holding a record of just 3-6 in their last nine games in Knoxville.
With that said, this is Kentucky Basketball, and realistic or not, we believe we have a chance to win every contest. Let’s take a look at three keys for Kentucky to have a shot at the win.
Show more effort on the boards
Under John Calipari, Kentucky has traditionally been a good rebounding team, and even more so with Oscar Tshiebwe on the team. With that said, Kentucky’s effort on the boards against South Carolina was unacceptable, largely due to effort.
Not only did the Wildcats lose the rebounding batter 32-28, but they gave up 15 offensive rebounds, their most since - ironically enough - against South Carolina last season (20). With that said, Tennessee is much better at rebounding than South Carolina, ranked 5th in the country, twenty spots ahead of Kentucky.
If Kentucky wants any shot at winning, they are going to have to show more fight on the glass. Getting extra possessions and limiting Tennessee to just one, is going to be key.
Value possessions and take care of the ball
Kentucky is not a great offensive team. While it may not look like it, analytics are showing that is improving. Case in point, the Wildcats put up 68 points in 57 possessions against South Carolina, for an impressive 1.19 points per possession.
On Saturday, the Wildcats will be going up against the stoutest defense in the country, rated No. 1 in defensive efficiency by KenPom. Limiting their opponents to just 53,4 points per game, scoring is not going to come easy against the Volunteers. Also accounting for the fact that Tennessee forces 17.1 turnovers per game, every possession will be valuable.
To put it simply, Kentucky is going to have to make shots to space the floor, which has been a struggle for them on the road this season. If they can do that and continue to effectively run some ball screen action, the Wildcats will have scoring opportunities. That is easier than done.
Show improvement on the defensive end
Given the length and athleticism of this team, this should be “a hell of a defensive team” as Calipari has put it. Yet, that is far from the case.
Countless times this season have the Wildcats beat beaten on straight-line drives. While Kentucky has played some great guards, this ultimately comes down to a lack of focus and not executing the scouting report.
Against power five opponents, the Wildcats are allowing more than 75 points per game and if the Wildcats want to improve, this has to be the area they grow the most. As great as Tennessee is defensively, they have only been ‘good’ offensively, well until late. It should be noted they have scored 77 points or more in four of their last five games.
The Volunteers do not rely on one player and have more of a balanced scoring attack. Therefore, all five players on the floor will need to be engaged on the defensive end.
Time/Date: 12:00 pm ET on Saturday, January 14th, 2023.
Location: Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee.
TV Channel: ESPN
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Tennessee -12. That would be the biggest spread for an opponent in the John Calipari era. The previous high was West Virginia -10.5 when the two programs played in Morgantown during the 2017-18 season. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Wildcats one of their worst chances to win a game for the remainder of the season at just 9.4 percent. Bart Torvik is even less confident in the Cats at 4%. KenPom has it at 11%.