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Preview: Tennessee vs. No. 1 Kentucky

Kevin Punter-1-12

Tennessee (14-10) vs. No. 1 Kentucky (25-0)

Tuesday, Feb. 17th, 7:00 p.m. ET

 Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, TN

TV: ESPN

Probable Kentucky Starters

G-Andrew Harrison, 6-6, 210, SO (8.2 ppg, 4.0 apg)

G-Aaron Harrison, 6-6, 212, SO (11.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg)

G-Trey Lyles, 6-10, 235, FR (7.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg)

F-Karl-Anthony Towns, 6-11, 250, FR (9.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

F-Willie Cauley-Stein, 7-0, 242, JR (9.4 ppg, .596 FG%)

Probable Tennessee Starters

G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 200, SR (16.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg)

G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, JR (10.5 ppg, .408 3FG%)

G-Robert Hubbs, 6-6, 206, SO (6.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg)

F-Armani Moore, 6-5, 215, JR (10.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg)

F-Willie Carmichael III, 6-8, 210, FR (3.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg)

Setting the Table 

The Vols are coming off perhaps their worst performance of the year – a 73-55 home loss to LSU – about which Donnie Tyndall said “that’s the worst half for any team I’ve ever coached in 10 years.” Tyndall went on to add, “If we play like we did in the first half tonight against Kentucky, they will beat us by a hundred.”

Tennessee is just 2-4 at home in SEC play, but they do have a home win over a very talented Arkansas team.

Kentucky ranks No. 1 in the nation in both major polls and No. 2 in the RPI. The Volunteers sit at No. 84 in the NCAA’s latest official rankings.

No program has more victories over Kentucky than Tennessee and no team has defeated John Calipari (since his return to the college game) more than the Vols. A win Tuesday – with Kentucky’s talent level, Tennessee’s home struggles and lack of overall talent – would easily go down as one of the greatest upsets in Vol history.

Quotable 

“I have watched every conference game they have played in over the last two days, every single game. I think the biggest thing is that the teams that have played them tough have, first and foremost, made perimeter jump shots, at least kept the rebounding numbers close and in some cases even and the third thing is you have to limit your turnovers. If you give up second shots, which means you are going to lose the rebounding battle or you don’t shoot it well where they are able to play in transition or you turn it over where they can play in transition, then you have no chance. You have to make this team score in the half court, so with that being said, are we going to press? Yes, we will still press, but it may be a little bit containment-type press. You have to shrink the floor and do the best job you can of putting yourself in rebounding position, which is easier said than done, because they have guys that can make shots at 22 or 23 feet. Then you have to take care of the ball on the other end. You are better off getting a 35-second shot-clock violation and they have to take it out of bounds than take a bad shot or turn it over and now they are playing in the open floor.”

– Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall on Kentucky

Injuries

Freshman Vol power forward Jabari McGhee is likely out for the season after foot surgery. Junior Guard Devon Baulkman will be playing with a torn ligament in his left shoulder, but he has been effective. Ian Chiles, who missed significant time this season due to toe and shoulder injuries, had surgery on his injured shoulder and will miss the remainder of the season. Robert Hubbs dislocated his thumb against LSU but practiced this week and will play against Kentucky.

3 keys for the Vols

1. Knock Down Perimeter Shots: The Vols aren’t just a guard oriented team, they’re a team of guards. Tennessee doesn’t have a single viable true post player on the roster at this point – Armani Moore is a guard playing out of position at power forward, Derek Reese is a small forward, Tariq Owens and Willie Carmichael just aren’t ready from a physical standpoint – so the Vols have to knock down jump shots to beat any conference opponent. Tyndall outlined it in the above quote – teams that hang with Kentucky knock down shots. The Vols have proven they can play with about anyone when shots are falling and that they can easily get blown out when they’re not. Richardson, Punter, Hubbs, Mostella and Baulkman, Tennessee’s primary 3-point threats, are shooting just 25.6% from 3-point range over the last three games. They’ll have to be significantly better than that to keep it close against the Wildcats. 

2. Stay Aggressive: In home losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU, the Vols looked tentative offensively for long stretches. Each of those teams had a height/athletic advantage on Tennessee, and the Vols seemingly let that intimidate them. Kentucky will have an astronomical height and talent edge and the Vols can’t let that sap their aggressiveness or they’ll get blown out. 

3. Turnovers, Rebounds, Hustle: Kentucky will win the battle of the boards, but the Vols have to get every 50/50 ball. They can’t win this game without expending significantly more effort than the Wildcats. Punter and Richardson have to stay active in passing lanes, force turnovers and create some easy buckets. And they can’t turn the ball over. LSU was able to get in the open floor against Tennessee and quickly build an insurmountable lead. Kentucky will do the same if the Vols don’t take care of the ball.

Predictions

KenPom.com: Kentucky 67-53
Daniel: Kentucky 72-58
Houston: Kentucky 79-54
Reed: Kentucky 70-50

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