This Saturday will mark arguably the biggest regular season match-up between Tennessee and Kentucky in the series’ long and storied history.
No. 1 Tennessee (23-1, 11-0 SEC) and No. 5 Kentucky (20-4, 9-2 SEC) will face-off in Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday night at 8:00 PM Eastern. The Vols have already made a lot of history during this season, and they’ll look to make some more on Saturday in Rupp Arena when they take on the Wildcats.
Kentucky, meanwhile, is looking to avenge a controversial loss to LSU on Tuesday at home. The Wildcats haven’t lost back-to-back games this season, and they haven’t lost back-to-back games since they dropped four-straight games from February 3rd through February 14th of last season.
One of those four-straight losses last season was to Tennessee. And it happened in Rupp Arena.
Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing and meaningful numbers heading into Saturday’s huge match-up between No. 1 Tennessee and No. 5 Kentucky.
Tennessee has faced Kentucky 225 times on the basketball court, and the Vols have been ranked higher than the Wildcats only 17 times in those 225 meetings.
In two of the three meetings between the two teams last season, Tennessee was the higher-rated team. The Vols were ranked No. 15 in the AP Poll when they took down No. 24 Kentucky in Lexington, and Tennessee was No. 13 in the AP Poll when they lost to an (at the time) unranked Wildcat squad in the SEC Tournament Finals.
The Vols are 7-10 all-time when playing Kentucky as the higher-ranked team.
Only three times in the 225 meetings between the two schools have both teams been ranked inside the top 10 of the AP Poll. This Saturday will mark the first time ever that both teams have played as top-5 teams in the poll.
Tennessee is 2-1 all-time against the Wildcats when both teams are ranked inside the top 10. No. 10 Tennessee beat No. 6 Kentucky 87-71 in Knoxville in 1981, No. 5 Tennessee lost 60-59 to No. 8 Kentucky in February of 1968 in Lexington, and the No. 4 Vols beat No. 8 Kentucky 87-59 in Knoxville in January of that same year. This Saturday’s game will mark only the 20th time that both teams have been ranked when they’ve faced-off against each other.
The Vols have played Kentucky once as the No. 1 team in the country already, and that resulted in a win for UT.
Tennessee was the top-ranked team in college basketball for a week in 2008, and they beat an unranked Wildcat squad by a score of 63-60 in Knoxville on March 2nd, just a few days after losing to Vanderbilt on the road.
Tennessee has only played two ranked teams this season so far, and both were top-5 teams at the time the Vols played them.
The Vols lost in overtime to then-No. 2 Kansas 87-81 in New York back on November 23rd, and Tennessee beat then-No. 1 Gonzaga 76-73 in Phoenix on December 9th. Since that game against Gonzaga, Tennessee hasn’t played a team ranked inside the top 25 of the AP Poll.
Kentucky has faced-off against six ranked teams this season so far, and they’ve gone 4-2 in those contests.
The Wildcats own wins against then-No. 9 North Carolina, then-No. 14 Auburn, then-No. 22 Mississippi State, and then-No. 9 Kansas. Only North Carolina (8th) and Kansas (14h) remain ranked in the latest AP Poll, however.
Kentucky’s two losses to ranked teams have been against then-No. 4 Duke and No. 19 LSU. The Wildcats lost 118-84 to open the season against the Blue Devils, and their loss to LSU came in their most recent game back on Tuesday.
Tennessee has taken on Kentucky 107 times in Lexington, and they’ve only won 17 times total there
The Vols have had miserable luck on the road against the Wildcats, and seven of those 17 wins in Lexington came before 1927. That means the Vols have won just 10 times in Lexington over the last 90-plus years.
Since Kentucky began playing games in Rupp Arena in November of 1976, it’s been a house of horrors for opposing teams. The Wildcats are 529-64 all-time in Rupp Arena, and they haven’t lost back-to-back games on their home court in the John Calipari era.
Tennessee has found it especially tough to win in Rupp. The Vols are just 5-37 all-time in Rupp Arena, and their win there last season marked their first victory in Rupp since 2006. The Vols have never won back-to-back games in Rupp Arena in its nearly 43 years of existence.
Rick Barnes has faced Kentucky seven times as head coach of the Vols, and he holds the upper hand against the Wildcats since he was hired as UT’s head coach.
Barnes is 4-3 against Kentucky during his stint as Tennessee’s head coach, and his Vols have won two of the last three and three of the last five contests against the Wildcats. Tennessee’s 4-3 record against Kentucky over their last seven meetings is the Vols’ best record in a seven-game stretch against UK since they went 4-3 vs. the Wildcats from January 12th, 1999 through February 6th, 2002.
Tennessee may not have the greatest history against Kentucky, but they’ve actually beaten the Wildcats more than any team in Kentucky’s history. Granted, that’s likely to happen when you’ve played over 200 times (the most games the Wildcats have played against a single opponent), but the Vols’ 71 wins in 225 meetings against Kentucky is the most defeats the Wildcats have suffered against any opponent.
The second-closest is actually Vanderbilt with 47 wins in 192 meetings.
According to the 247Sports Composite rankings for each recruiting class, Kentucky has nine players who were top-100 overall prospects coming out of high school. All nine of the Wildcats’ primary scholarship players were rated as top-100 players in high school, and all were at least four-stars on 247Sports. In fact, only Jemarl Baker Jr., Tyler Herro, and Reid Travis weren’t five-stars. The other six primary scholarship players on UK’s roster were five-stars coming out of high school.
Conversely, Tennessee has a grand total of zero players on their roster who were top-100 players coming out of high school according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Vols’ highest-rated player, D.J. Burns (108th overall) hasn’t played a single game for UT this season and is redshirting in his freshman year.
In fact, six Vols were rated outside the top-200 overall players in their respective classes according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
This season, Kentucky has had six different freshmen contribute on the offensive end for them. Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery, and Jemarl Baker Jr. have combined to score 1,106 points for the Wildcats this season. That’s 58.8 percent of Kentucky’s total points scored this season.
Tennessee, meanwhile, hasn’t had a single point scored by a freshman this year. In fact, only 10.4 percent (213 points) of the Vols’ points this season have even been scored by sophomores. Tennessee has had the bulk of their production (89.6 percent) come from juniors and seniors.
When the two teams take the court on Saturday, there will be a combined 1,424 victories between their two head coaches.
Rick Barnes enters Saturday’s game with a 684-359 overall record, including an 80-45 mark with the Vols. His 684 victories are the 22nd-most all-time in Division I basketball history.
Kentucky’s John Calipari comes into Saturday’s contest with a 740-208 all-time record. Technically, he has fewer wins because of vacated games from his 2007-08 season with Memphis and 1995-96 season with UMass. But without those vacated wins, he has the 18th-most victories all-time in Division I basketball. Calipari is 295-68 with Kentucky.