Kentucky Looks to Snap Losing Streak in Knoxville
On Saturday night the Cats will travel to Knoxville for a match up with #23 Tennessee. The Volunteers have their best team since they last made the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2014. Head coach Rick Barnes is in his third season with the Vols and has had to do a total rebuild. In spite of the rebuilding Tennessee has won both games in Knoxville the past two seasons and hope to make it three in a row on Saturday. Dating back to the 2013 season Kentucky is just 1-3 at Tennessee. It is always sold out whenever the Wildcats play there and Saturday will be the same. The biggest difference is that this season Tennessee is a legitimate contender for an NCAA tournament bid. That makes this game a huge opportunity for the Vols to pick up a big resume win. On the flip side it is also a huge opportunity for Kentucky to get a road win against a ranked team.
Kentucky had to scratch and claw their way to victory on Wednesday night at LSU. While LSU is clearly better than they were last year they are still a team that projects to finish in the bottom four of the conference. If it was that much of a struggle to beat a mediocre LSU it seems unlikely for UK to beat a good Tennessee team on the road. With that said some of the difficulties at LSU could have been due to Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards and Sach Killeya-Jones having the flu. It was also the very first road game for the team which did not help their struggles.
Tennessee has had a rough start to SEC play losing their first two games by close margins. That will leave them even hungrier for a win against Kentucky. The Vols play a deep rotation of nine players and have five players averaging over 9 points per game. The key player for them is Grant Williams who is a 6’7 sophomore forward that leads them in scoring and rebounding. He does most of his scoring around the basket and is a big time energy guy. He is a similar size to PJ Washington and it is likely that the two will be matched up often. He is somewhat foul prone so it would be a good idea for the Cats to go at him in hopes of sending him to the bench. For the most part Tennessee is an undersized team inside but they make up for it with energy and athleticism. It will be interesting to see if Kentucky can make use of its size advantage against them.
The advantage goes to Tennessee in this match up on this given night. That does not mean that Kentucky can’t win this game it just means the odds are stacked against them. Both teams could really use this win but the Vols need it the most after their 2-0 start. For Kentucky to win they will need to get Williams in foul trouble and find a way to dominate inside the paint. If the Cats don’t win the rebounding battle it will be extremely hard to win the game. Another key for Kentucky will be to avoid getting into a jump shooting game with the Vols. Kentucky has to drive the ball aggressively into the paint and post up inside when possible. Expect it to be a game of runs with the Cats keeping it close but falling short in the end. A win would be huge for the Cats but on Saturday it seems unlikely. Win or lose it will be a learning experience for the young team and with March on the mind it is what matters most.