IHTIT: Tennessee Vols at Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Preview (2/3/24)

It's Hoops Time in Tennessee: the Vols (15-5, 5-2 SEC, 8-5 Q2+) and Kentucky (15-5, 5-3, 5-4 Q2+) had eerily similar weeks. Each team tried to defend its home court from an upstart SEC squad looking to make a serious move in the conference rankings, and each team failed. UT and UK both limp into Saturday night's contest staring up at the SEC leaders knowing that a win keeps the top of the SEC within view. However, a loss would make even securing a bye to the quarterfinals in next month's SEC tournament an uphill battle. 

Preview Graphic: See the basketball glossary for more information. Click for larger version. 


  • This Kentucky team averages 1.95 years of experience according to Kenpom, making them practically ancient by Calipari's standards. Each of Cal's Final Four teams at UK averaged closer to a year or less of experience. 
  • In contrast, Tennessee averages 2.78 years of experience, the 26th-most experienced team in the NCAA. 
  • A chunk of UK's experience comes from the two seniors in this week's graph. Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves scores 19.5/game and has gone over 20 ten times. Journeyman Tre Mitchell is the team's leading rebounder and has three double-doubles in SEC play.
  • One anomaly from the graph: Rob Dillingham doesn't typically start for the Cats, but his usage rate is through the roof. That means when Dillingham is on the floor, the offense goes through him. In games against ranked opponents, the freshman guard scores 15.7 PPG and makes 53.8% of his threes. 
  • Another freshman guard, Reed Shepard, dishes 4.2 assists per game and his 54.2% from three leads the nation.
  • Did I mention the two international 7-footers? 'Cause they have that too. 
  • Here's something to look for: Kentucky is statistically good at a lot of things, but they're bad at offensive rebounds. If the Cats are getting second chance points early, it's probably going to be a long day for Tennessee.
Rupp Arena opened in 1976. Kentucky has lost back-to-back games in Rupp just 7 times since. Most recently, it happened twice in the 2020-21 season, with COVID crowds being limited to just a few thousand fans. A full-strength Rupp hasn't seen a losing streak of even just two games since the 2008-09 season (it happened twice). Tennessee went 3-1 in Rupp from 2018 to 2021, but hasn't won there in the last two trips, and the games weren't particularly close.

Knowing all that, why did the Vols open as 1.5-point favorites? Well, even after Tuesday's loss to South Carolina, the computers still love UT: Kenpom has Tennessee as 2-pont favorites, for example. It's certainly a game Tennessee can win. But it's hard to assume they're going to. If you believe defense travels, and you believe Tennessee's cold shooting Tuesday was a blip and not a trend, then take the Vols. If you believe in 3s and home court advantage, take Kentucky. 

Prediction: Tennessee 73, Kentucky 70. Defense travels. 
Mediocre Betting Advice: Confidence level here is low, but emotions are high. Tennessee -1.5 and under 159.5 just because I think if this game stays out of the 80s, UT wins.

Prediction Totals: (4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS, 1-3-1 O/U)


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