Tennessee pulled off a good victory over Alabama in Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday in a game where they trailed by as many as 15 points at one point. While the final score was 69-68, 3 of those Alabama points came on an unguarded buzzer beater. I say that to point out that Tennessee did a good job of seizing momentum when they needed to and had control of the game in true crunch-time. That isn’t something we have seen too much of this season out of our basketball team. The win against Alabama showed me that the Vols defense is still their calling card, and slowing down John Petty is something that not many teams, SEC or otherwise, have accomplished this season.
BUTTTT… Alabama is behind us and Kentucky is up ahead. Before the Vols tip-off against the Nation’s #15 team at 1:00p.m., let’s take a look at some of the nuances of UK’s program and their current season, a couple of their players we need to watch out for, what the Vols will need to do in order to win this game, and finally I will give my final prediction for this match up.
The SEC School that Isn’t Even… Southern.
School: The University of Kentucky
- Location: Lexington, Kentucky
- Mascot: Wildcats
- Conference: SEC
- Coach: John Calipari (11th season)
- 2019-2020 Record: 17-5 (7-2 SEC)
- Current NCAA Tournament Forecast (Lunardi): 5th Seed in East Bracket, trending down.
- Last Game Against The Vols: 3/16/2019- The Vols knocked off the Wildcats for the 2nd time in the 2018-2019 season 82-78 in the SEC Tournament Semifinals. The Vols got 59 points from the Three-Headed Monster of Jordan Bone, Admiral Schofield, and Grant Williams.
- Notable Former Player: Anthony Davis- Davis was one of those “Unicorns” when he was at U.K. during his Freshman Year of 2012. Averaging 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks during his only season in Lexington, Anthony Davis took home a ton of awards and accolades, namely Naismith Award, Wooden Award, SEC Player of the Year, SEC Defensive player of the year, SEC Rookie of the Year, and a number of All-Conference and All-Tournament teams. Currently, Davis is Co-Star with Lebron James out in L.A. wearing the purple and gold after 7 seasons in New Orleans with the Pelicans. This season, Davis is averaging 26.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. His career averages are 24.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. He is a 7x All-Star, 3x All-NBA, 3x All-Defensive team member who may soon win his first NBA Championship.
The Wildcats, as usual, are stacked with talent. 8 players on their roster came into Lexington after being rated as one of the top 40 players in their class. Usually the Cats are more of a young, run-and-gun, stretch the floor team. This team is a little different. Not only do the Wildcats have a couple of upperclassmen as well as focus on their inside game more so than years past, but they are doing so at a high level. Now, U.K. isn’t ranked near the top of the polls or one of those Cats’ teams that run teams out of the gym, but they are a pretty good, and much of that is thanks to their lineup’s bookends- Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards.
Ashton Hagans, Kentucky’s sophomore point guard, is currently averaging 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists. He is a guard that looks to pass first and score second (he leads the SEC with 153 assists), sometimes to a fault. While his passing is elite, where he can truly change the game is on the defensive end. 2018-2019’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Hagans is also this season’s SEC’s leader in steals with 46 (averaging 2.1/game). Being able to steal the ball, start the break and run it as well as Hagans does is what has NBA scouts excited; he’s projected as a late first round pick in most mocks. He isn’t too good of a shooter though, and without the ball in his hands, he has the tendency to get lazy and stand around, not doing too much to make a shot or opportunity for himself.
On the opposite end you have Nick Richards. The Junior Center has had a re-emergence after a 2018-2019 season that was a little sub-par. Standing at 6’11”, it should come as no surprise that Richards is a nightmare for many teams, especially those that are lacking in the size department. As I have mentioned before, I am a sucker for advanced statistics, and one thing I like to look at with post players is the Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Richards has a PER of 27.1, and trails only Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry (30.1) for the SEC lead. This statistic should be quite telling to you, as Richards and Perry are currently the two front runners for SEC Player of the Year. This season, Richards is averaging 14.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks.
Continuing with the advanced stats theme, Richards is the only player in the SEC whose offensive rating (130.2-#1 in SEC) and defensive rating (92.7- #6 in SEC) both are in the top ten in those respective categories. To me, Richards is more of a problem on the offensive end of the floor, but the numbers tell me he will give us trouble on defense, as well.
What This Border Battle May Look Like
Before I get into how I see this game going, please realize that I am from Harrogate, Tennessee, which is a legitimate border city between Tennessee and Kentucky. I have recently been in a struggle with my family and in-laws to keep them from warping my daughter’s brain into being a Kentucky fan. Full disclosure, I dislike Alabama, Vanderbilt, and Florida much more than I do Kentucky. However, for a couple of weeks a year, and on the occasion that someone just is blatantly annoying with the “Go Big Blue” or “BBN” mess that is everywhere in my hometown and has even infected some members of my family, I truly abhor Kentucky.
Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I don’t like the Vols chances in this match-up. While Nick Richards will definitely be a problem for our frontcourt, E.J. Montgomery is also a capable big man. While nowhere near as skilled as or as good as Richards, his height and athleticism will be problematic for the Vols. Because of his less-than-stellar offensive game, I think Barnes should plan on E.J. Montgomery being the post player we don’t focus on as much. He will score some points and grab some boards, sure, but to no comparison to the clip that Richards will. I think we have the defensive ability out of our guards (Even if Josiah-Jordan James sits) to slow down Hagans and force him into some turnovers.
As for us, I am looking for Pons to have a good game on the offensive end, but there aren’t any other players I can confidently say that I like their chances against the Wildcat they’ll likely be matched up against. With James doubtful, I am excited to see how Davonte Gaines plays on the defensive end of the floor against true NBA talent.
You can probably tell where I am heading with this one, and trust me, it pains me to type it out. My guess is UK 84 Vols 68. TBA’s magic could come into play and really have a big impact on this game, but without us playing our best game of the season, I don’t see us pulling this one out. We have shown that we can hang with and beat teams that Kentucky has either lost to or struggled with (such as Vanderbilt and South Carolina), but with the “good today, bad tomorrow” vibe I have gotten from the Vols lately, I just can’t say we will win. For my own sanity, I pray I am wrong.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Tennessee and Kentucky is always appointment television in my home, and I have been fortunate to see quite a few Vols victories lately. Rick Barnes has never lost to the Wildcats in Knoxville, and I would be quite alright if that streak extended to five seasons when the buzzer sounds on Saturday.
For minute to minute news concerning all aspects of all Volunteer sports, be sure to check out MoreImportantIssues on Twitter (@More_Issues), as well as listening to the podcast on any of the various podcast platforms! Trust me, Landon and Caleb won’t let you down If you’re looking for quality Big Orange talk with a laid-back attitude. Until we meet again, this is Dakota Robertson saying see ya later and Go Vols!
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