The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in the SEC Tournament semifinals. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their predictions for the Vols’ rubber match with the Wildcats.
Reid Travis is back for Kentucky and the Vols have to play on a very quick turnaround. Those two aren’t a great recipe for success for Tennessee, but I’m certainly not counting them out.
The Vols finished their game against Mississippi State just before 11:30 Central, and they weren’t done with media stuff till about midnight. I don’t know when they actually got to sleep or how much sleep they actually got, because they still had to prepare for the Wildcats in the morning. Granted, the Vols probably know UK pretty well at this point, but still.
Tennessee will have to play very physical on Saturday, and they can’t get by if they play like they did against Auburn. The Vols did a great job of attacking the rim and not settling for threes against Mississippi State, so that’s a promising sign. Tennessee also did a good job of that the second time they played Kentucky during the regular season, but it was a huge issue when the two teams played in Lexington and both Travis and P.J. Washington were on the floor.
I know Travis isn’t 100 percent like he was back in February, but he played well against Alabama, scoring eight points while pulling down seven rebounds.
I trust Jordan Bone to be on top of his game, and I trust Grant Williams to do his best to make a big impact in the game. But I’m nervous about everyone else in UT’s lineup being able to do the same and play within themselves, especially after they just finished a fairly physical game not even 15 hours ago.
My gut doesn’t feel good about this game. I’d like for my gut to be wrong, but it’s been fairly accurate on Tennessee football and basketball both this season.
Pick: Kentucky, 72-65
MVP: Keldon Johnson, Kentucky guard
A lot of the focus will be on the play in the paint for both schools, but I think Keldon Johnson can use that to his advantage and be a weapon from deep for the Wildcats. The Vols contained him in Knoxville, but he was a force when the two teams played in Lexington. I think he’ll get plenty of opportunities on Saturday, and he should be able to connect on a few threes.
Honestly, I don’t have a good feel for today’s game. Both teams are exceptional and capable of beating the other, as we’ve already seen this season. Quite frankly, whichever team does the better job of staying within themseleves will win the game. It may sound silly, but at this point in the season everybody understands what each team is trying to accomplish. That is why I believe that whichever team stays within its comfort zone will win the game.
Because Reid Travis isn’t 100 percent healthy, I don’t see Kentucky being able to take Tennessee out of its comfort zone. Travis did look good against Alabama yesterday, grabbing seven rebounds, blocking three shots, and scoring eight points on 4-of-6 shooting. But that was against an Alabama team that truly lacks a consistent post presence. How will Travis fare against Kyle Alexander – who played well in Friday’s win over Mississippi State – and Grant Williams? That’s to be determined, but I don’t believe Reid will be as effective as he was against Tennessee in Rupp Arena.
The matchup of the game will be Williams and PJ Washington, but I believe the game will be won between Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden vs. Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro.
In Lexington, Johnson and Herro put on a show. In Knoxville, the freshmen duo might as well have not shown up. The two were non-existent, and it was largely in part because of the effort on the defensive end from Tennessee’s guards. Turner and Bowden’s offensive production will be important on Saturday, but their defensive production will determine if Tennessee plays for an SEC Championship on Sunday.
Pick: Tennessee, 69-68
MVP: Jordan Bone, Tennessee point guard
Jordan Bone was extremely productive against Mississippi State on Friday. The junior point guard scored 14 points, had nine assists, four rebounds, a steal, and just one turnover. Through two games against Kentucky this season, Bone has gotten the most of freshman Immanuel Quickley. I expect for that to repeat itself on Saturday.