Preview: Tennessee vs. No. 20 Kentucky

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    Kentucky-1-4

    Tennessee (10-11, 3-5 SEC) vs. Kentucky (16-5, 6-2 SEC)

    Tuesday, Feb. 2, 7:00 p.m. ET

      Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, Tenn.

    TV: ESPN

    Probable Kentucky Starters

    G-Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160, SO (16.1 ppg, 6.2 apg) 

    G-Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202, FR (10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg)

    F-Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207, FR (17.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) 

    F-Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230, SR, (9.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg)

    F-Derek Willis, 6-9, 220, JR, (6.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg)

    Probable Tennessee Starters

    G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, SR (23.0 ppg, 3.5 apg)

    G-Devon Baulkman 6-4, 200, SR (9.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg)

    G-Robert Hubbs III, 6-4, 207, JR (11.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

    G/F-Admiral Schofield, 6-5, 240, FR (6.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

    F-Armani Moore, 6-4, 217, SR (11.7, 8.0 rpg)

    Setting the Table 

    This might not be your older brother’s Kentucky team from a couple years ago, but the Wildcats, as is always the case under John Calipari, are still loaded with talent, size and scoring capability. They might be turning the corner a bit too after posting a trio of SEC wins by at least 14 points before barely falling to No. 4 Kansas over the weekend.

    Tennessee, meanwhile, is reeling after blowing consecutive second-half double-digit leads in the past week to Alabama and then TCU. It was a week that many UT fans were hoping for a sweep from. Instead, the Vols came up empty and frustrated.

    It’ll certainly be a massive challenge on Tuesday evening in Knoxville, but the Vols have been in it almost every game at home this season. In what has been an up-and-down campaign for the Vols, very little would surprise anybody when the ‘Cats come to town.

    Quotable

    “I think he is a great basketball coach – I think he is great. (People who think otherwise), that is jealousy. People who try to say that he is not a good coach border on ignorant. I mean, John Calipari has won everywhere he has been, and he hasn’t always had the best players. I do not think people know what it is like to have a group of great players to coach. It is one of the hardest things I learned in this business. When I was at Providence, George Mason and Clemson I said I wish I had a job where I can get all of those great players. It’s not as easy as everyone thinks to get, and when you get them it is totally different because you have to understand that everywhere they go to play they are someone’s Super Bowl. They got the A-team for radio and TV, and for anyone to not think he is a great coach… he is one of the greatest. If you look at what he has done and how he has done it… he is not afraid to speak the truth, and because of that some people don’t like him.”

    – Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes discussing John Calipari

    3 keys for the Vols

    1. Hit 40% from 3-point range: The Vols have lived and died by the 3-pointer all season, and while they also need to be more assertive (see Point 2), they also have to hit an extremely high percentage of the 3-pointers they do take to have a chance in this one. Tennessee learned that the hard way against TCU. The Vols shot 8 of 16 (50%) in the first half in Fort Worth on their way to a 14-point lead. They put up a goose egg in the second half – missing all 15 3-pointers as the lead slipped away. 

    2. Be more assertive: While Tennessee is never going to make a living going inside against bigger teams, they also have to at least make more of an effort to. This team, at times, has fallen in love with jacking up bad 3-point looks. Tennessee got to the line 32 times in its win against South Carolina recently. Compare that to a total of just 18 attempts combined against Alabama and TCU. Being more assertive will draw fouls and open up better looks for the outside shooters.

    3. 40 minutes: This feels like a repeat of many of the conversations from early in Tennessee’s 2015 football season. This team must finish and not be content with second-half leads. I’m not sure that it’s UT necessarily playing conservative late, but rather just a lack of energy and focus down the stretch. A 15-point lead should mean virtually nothing to the Vols on Tuesday night unless it gets down to the closing moments. Tennessee will have to plays its most complete 40 minutes of the season to beat the Wildcats.

    Predictions

    Daniel: Kentucky 76-70

    Nathanael: Kentucky 88-70