No one could’ve predicted the SEC standings at this point in February. Coming into this Game, Tennessee has a one Game lead on Kentucky, which is only one of the surprising things in the conference. The Vols have won their last five and already beat UK at home, while the Wildcats can’t seem to win an easy Game.
Kentucky is coming off a loss at Missouri in which it never looked like the better team. Prior to that, it barely beat Vanderbilt on its home cOurt and needed a huge comeback to win at West Virginia. Now looking for revenge against the Vols, there’s no doubt it won’t be easy.
Tennessee has won three of its last Four on the road and even more impressive has won its last three Games all by at least 23 points. Diving into the numbers, the Vols have the best effective FG% (54.5) in the SEC and are the second most efficient offensively. The biggest test for this Game is facing Kentucky’s top-ranked three-point defense, as it allows just 25.1 percent from long range. If the Vols aren’t hitting from deep, the Wildcats get the first advantage.
But what’s helped Tennessee even more in recent Games has been its defense, holding its last seven opponents at 63 points or less. While none of the metrics point to the Vols having a good defense, those recent numbers suggest otherwise. That’s not good for the home team because the Wildcats have an issue of scoring and that was seen in the loss to Missouri (60 points). They rank near the bottom in terms of shooting (28.3 3PT%) and are 10th in the Conference in terms of efficiency.
The matchup to watch is sophomore Grant Williams against Kevin Knox. The two aren’t all that different at the power forward position with Knox the better shooter. Williams is a consistent threat in the paint and averages 16.2 points and 6.2 boards, while Knox is in the same range at 15.1 points and 5.7 boards per Game. Williams won the first meeting with 18 points, eight boards and Four assists compared to Knox’s six points and five boards on 1-of-9 shooting.
The other dominant player in that first meeting (Vols won 76-65) was Admiral SChofield, who had 20 points, nine rebounds, Four assists and Four steals. Even giving up size as a small forward, SChofield still did what he wanted when matched with guys taller than him like PJ Washington or even Wenyen Gabriel.
Maybe even equally important as Williams and SChofield in that first Game was the play of its Four guards. Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden are the starters, but as seen in that first Game, James Daniel and LAmonte Turner play just as much depending on the situation. In that first matchup, Daniel and Turner were the keys even though they give up multiple inches to UK’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green.
Betting against Kentucky at home has become more popular this season, especially given the how each of these teams has looked in the last couple weeks, Tennessee is much easier to put money on. But will things be as easy for Williams and SChofield on the road? The Wildcats are in need of a win, even more so with two difficult road trips up next. The unpredictably of Knox is hard to back, but he’s a guy that can show up when needed.
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