It's Hoops Time in Tennessee: Kentucky Preview 2/18/23


Last time out: Tennessee (20-6, 9-4) took down #1 Alabama ON A TENNESSEE SATURDAY WEDNESDAY NIGHT. Kentucky (17-9, 8-5) held off Mississippi St. in Starkville 71-68 also on Wednesday. 

Previously on Vols vs. Cats: Kentucky grabbed a 63-56 win in Knoxville on January 11. The Vols shot just 3-21 from three (oh, one of those games) and shot just 10 free throws compared to UK's 25 (oh, one of those games). Tennessee trails the all-time series 77-159 and is just 20-92 in Lexington BUT the Vols have won 3 of the last five played at Rupp. 

Who to watch: It's no secret that for Kentucky, Oscar Tshiebwe stirs the drink. The 6'9", 260 lb. center--he's listed as a forward, but in the era of position-less basketball he still plays like a traditional center--averages a double-double with 15.8 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, numbers that don't drop off even when looking at conference play alone. In fact, about a quarter of the time there's a rebound in the air, Tshiebwe is the man pulling it down, and that number does up to about 1/3 of all rebounds on defense. 

In addition to Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin is among the league leaders in rebounding. Sahvir Wheeler is the leading assist man in the SEC (5.6 per), while Antonio Reeves is one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the conference (42.1 3P%). 

Prediction: I dare you to figure out this Kentucky team. They are as confounding at their best as Tennessee is at their worst. January's win in Knoxville kicked off a six-game SEC win streak for the Cats (though they did drop a contest to Kansas somewhere in there). That streak ground to a halt in back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Georgia (!?) before knocking off Mississippi St. in Starkville Wednesday. That MSU win gave UK just their second quadrant 1 win of the year (UT is 6-2 in Q1 games). Kentucky has underperformed just about all expectations they had coming into the year, but are still talented enough to knock off anybody on a given night. They've already take Tennessee down once this season, and with the game at Rupp, can one realistically pick the Vols to win? 

Well, yes, one could. UT will likely not face a darker period this season than back-to-back buzzer-beater losses. The fortitude it took to gut out a win against #1 Alabama just might have shown the true nature of this team, not whatever we were seeing the two weeks prior. However, I need to see that effort one more time before I can feel safe that course has been corrected. I'd also like to keep reverse mojo (tm) going. Reluctantly, Kentucky wins on Saturday. 


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