With the falloff of Louisville in recent years, the biggest rival for Kentucky Basketball has undoubtedly been the Tennessee Volunteers, who will come to Lexington on Saturday for the latest installment in the series. W
hile Kentucky dominates the series history, 160-77, the Volunteers have improved (at least in the regular season) under Rick Barnes. Over the last five seasons, the series has been split 6-6.
This season, both teams have been considered the class of the SEC, but each has shown its flaws. Kentucky cannot defend and has yet to play a game with a full roster, while Tennessee struggles to score outside of Dalton Knecht and has had trouble defending talented frontcourts.
With both teams looking to bounce back after a loss, expect another tense and competitive game inside Rupp Arena.
Here’s what you need to watch for in this matchup.
Force Others To Score
While Tennessee has been known for their defensive teams over the last few years, they have struggled to score, especially so this season. In fact, in their recent loss to South Carolina, eight of their nine players combined for 28 points. This eludes to their saving grace, Dalton Knecht, who had 31 in that game.
Knecht is the top scorer in the SEC and has led the Vols in scoring in 15 of their 22 games this season, including six straight. Playing against some of the best defenses in the country this season, he has still found success.
While Knecht is going to get him, Kentucky needs to make it difficult on him but, even more importantly, eliminate their other options. It’s difficult for one player to win a game.
Win The Rebounding Battle
Looking closer at Tennessee’s five losses, they have lost the rebounding battle in four of them. The Volunteers are the third-best rebounding team in the SEC and generate a lot of points from second-chance opportunities.
Tennessee will certainly be the most physical team that Kentucky has faced thus far, and potentially all season. Physicality has been an aspect that the staff has really been keying on in practice, this game will provide ample sample size to see what progress has been made.
This looks to be a game where Ugonna Onyenso and Adou Thiero will be important for their physicality and rebounding, but the team as a whole must look to win the rebounding battle and play through contact.
Make A Statement
After gifting Florida a win on Wednesday and looking lackluster over the last three games overall, Kentucky has an opportunity to make a statement against Tennessee. Playing a top-five opponent in a primetime game on ESPN, there is no better stage.
Coming off a loss, both teams will be motivated, but only one will come out with the win. If you ask Ugonna Onyenso, he’s confident that will be Kentucky. “We’ve never lost two times in a row this season. We’ve never done that. I don’t think Saturday’s gonna be the first,” Onyenso said Wednesday after the loss to Florida. “We’re looking forward to that game. For sure.”
If Kentucky can get the win, it will certainly provide a needed confidence boost for the team and the fanbase as March gets closer and closer.
Opposing Players to Watch
G Dalton Knecht, 6-6, 204 lbs
- 20.1 PPG (1st in SEC)
- 4.6 RPG
- 40% 3P (13th in SEC)
G Zakai Zeigler 5-9, 171 lbs
- 9.8 PPG
- 5.0 APG (1st in SEC)
- 1.7 SPG (8th in SEC)
F Jonas Aidoo, 6-11, 241 lbs
- 11.6 PPG
- 7.4 RPG (6th in SEC)
- 51.9% FG
Time: 8:30 PM EST on February 3rd
Location: Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center
TV Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Tom Hart and Jimmy Dykes
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the radio call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Tennessee -1.5 and an over/under of 160. ESPN’s matchup predictor has Kentucky as the underdog at home, giving them just a 41.6% chance at the win. EvanMiya gives Kentucky a 36.2% of winning. Bart Torvik is at 48%, while DRatings is at 48.4%, and KenPom stands at 43%.
Predictions: Bart Torvik has Tennessee winning 80-79. and Haslametrics is going with an 80-78 Vols victory. EvanMiya went with an 80-76 win for the Vols. KenPom is also projecting an 80-78 victory for Tennessee.
How do you see this one playing out? Sound off in the comments section!