The last game I wrote up over here was two weeks ago, the first matchup of the season between Tennessee and Kentucky.
Tennessee came into that game undefeated in the SEC and No. 1 in the land and, though I made Kentucky a favorite, we backed the Vols, who were catching what I estimated to be an extra point.
Emphasize “estimated.” Kentucky seized control of the game in the second half and made it a cakewalk at Rupp, winning by 17 points behind nearly 55 percent shooting and 68 points between Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, PJ Washington, and Reid Travis.
The Vols managed a field goal percentage a sliver over 40 and missed 18 of their 25 3-point attempts. Grant Williams could only get off four tries from the field due to great defense from both Washington and Travis.
The loss didn’t knock Tennessee out of the driver’s seat in the SEC, nor a projected 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. That loss that did that came a week later, when the Vols fell by a bucket at LSU, who didn’t have their leading scorer, Tremont Waters.
Now the Vols are in a three-way knot with LSU and UK atop the SEC regular season standings and most NCAA Tournament projections have Kentucky, and not Tennessee on the 1-line.
By defending home court today, Tennessee can at least kick Kentucky to the curb and hope LSU slips in one of its final three games, the next two of which are on the road (@Alabama, @Florida). I would think a win would get Tennessee back on the 1-line, too.
But with another week of the regular season to play and the conference tournament on the horizon, there isn’t much reason to put too much thought into what may happen now. Tennessee is actually less of a favorite in this game than Kentucky was two weeks ago. I wasn’t expecting that, mostly because of Reid Travis’ unavailability.
Travis is a fifth-year senior and big body, a frame that matches both Williams’ and Schofields’. In my write-up two weeks ago, I spent a lot of time on Travis’ importance in helping Kentucky matchup with Tennessee’s, if not massive then strong, front line.
But he hurt his knee 10 days ago vs. Missouri and, while he’s going to return this season, it’s not going to be today. He hasn’t practiced all week, which means the talented, yet slender freshman EJ Montgomery will start and Kentucky will have to change the way it plays on both sides of the ball.
The Wildcats will still feed Washington in the post but they won’t get the high-low action they do so well with Travis in the lineup. Defensively, Montgomery just isn’t as equipped to slow down either of the upperclassmen as Travis was and he’s going to be asked to do it on the road. What’s more, if he gets into foul trouble, Kentucky really gets down to the end of the bench.
Even if Travis were available, I would have liked Tennessee. This is a cohesive unit that will be motivated to do to Kentucky what Kentucky did to it in Lexington. I believe it will, to an extent, and win this game by closer to double-digits than to the 2.5 that its favored by. I feel good laying the points and taking the Vols again.
Play: Tennessee -2.5