This Game could’ve had a little more importance, but Kentucky fell to LSU on Tuesday after a questionable final call. But also because of that loss, Kentucky needs to win this Game even more if it wants to contend for the SEC regular season title. Playing at home, the Wildcats get the edge, but they just showed against LSU that they couldn’t hold onto leads.
Either way, this is going to be a fun Game. It’s the SEC’s most efficient offense (Tennessee) and defense (Kentucky), but each team is also solid on the other end of the cOurt. In fact, the Vols rank just behind UK in terms of defensive efficiency. Because of those numbers, there aren’t a ton of outliers between these teams as they’re good in most categories. One that could be tested is Tennessee’s rebounding since that’s what UK does well on both ends of the cOurt.
Every matchup in this Game will be fun, but none more so than big men Grant Williams (19.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Kyle Alexander (8.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) against PJ Washington (14.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and Reid Travis (11.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg). Washington put on his boosters a couple weeks ago and has dominated opposition with at least 20 points in six of the last seven Games. He continually dominates in the paint and it’ll be fun to watch him against the lengthy Alexander and bulky Williams. Travis doesn’t have the same numbers, but he’s just as important down low since he may draw the task of stopping Williams, which no one has been able to do. There’s a chance Washington wants the task, but that probably isn’t what John Calipari wants since Williams is one of the best in the country at drawing fouls.
The other positions will be just as exciting with freshman Keldon Johnson (14.0 ppg) against senior Admiral SChofield (16.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg). Johnson hasn’t had many matchups like this, especially defensively, so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do to stop SChofield, who gets his buckets no matter the matchup. UK has a little more size in the backcOurt with Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans, but that probably won’t matter against Jordan Bone, LAmonte Turner and Jordan Bowden. Of course, Bowden, who comes off the bench, provides a little extra size.
Tennessee’s variety of weapons to go with experience is what could set these teams apart. While Kentucky has figured things out and improved offensively in the last month, it still hasn’t been easy the last couple Games, scoring 71 in each. Washington is scoring in bunches, but Hagans has seen his scoring dip since a great start to January. In fact, Hagans has had some bad performances and couldn’t do anything against LSU last Game (Four points, one rebound, one assist).
Kentucky is the hot team with all of the stud freshmen, but Tennessee continually plays with a target on its back and wants to sweep this series just like a year ago. UK is almost a completely different team, but when these teams met at Rupp Arena last year, Tennessee ended up winning 61-59 in the final seconds. If you prefer experience over raw talent, the Vols are the way to go. But if you like future NBA talent playing at home, the Wildcats get that edge.
Our Pick – Kentucky -3