Volunteers Willing Road Warriors at Kentucky in Top 25 SEC Matchup

Rainman M.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 1:12 PM UTC

Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 1:12 PM UTC

No. 15 Tennessee (17-5) travels to No. 24 Kentucky (17-6) at 7 ET Tuesday. The Wildcats opened as one-point favorites. Do the Vols have what it takes to pull off a small upset in this huge SEC showdown on ESPN?

No. 15 Tennessee Volunteers at No. 24 KentuckyFree NCAAB Pick: Tennessee +2Best Line Offered: Heritage

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The Vols have already exceeded their win total from last season. They have won eight of their last nine games and covered seven of them. Tennessee relies on a deep bench. It ranks 62nd in bench minutes with seven players who average 20+ minutes per game.

Power forward Grant Williams is their go-to guy. He leads Tennessee with 16.2 points per game because of his strong inside presence. He ranks 57th in fouls drawn and excels at achieving second-chance baskets. Forward Admiral Schofield is second with 12.5 PPG. He is one of three Vols in the top 400 in three-point shooting percentage. He is the other Vol, besides Williams, who averages more than 6 rebounds per game. Guard/forward Jordan Bowden and point guard James Daniel are the other two highly-ranked three-point shooters for Tennessee, which shot 13-for-29 from three on Saturday despite off-days from both of them and still crushed Ole Miss. Daniel, like his backup Jordan Bone, ranks in the top 150 in assist rate.

Kentucky already has as many losses as it accrued all of last season. The Cats slid by a bad Vanderbilt team at home thanks to one of the dumbest fouls that I have ever seen (scroll to 4:17 in below video) and lost at Missouri.

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Poor offense, even from Kentucky's leading scorers, has contributed the most to its recent struggles. In their past two games, the Wildcats are shooting less than 45% from two and 20% from three. Power forward Kevin Knox leads the team with 15.1 PPG. He'll need to improve on his 1-for-9 performance in Kentucky's earlier loss at Tennessee. Point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a bright spot for Kentucky, producing 45 points in the past two games. He leads UK with 4.4 assists points per game. However, he has struggled against UK's strongest opponents and is averaging more than three turnovers per game since January.

Kentucky's third- and fourth-leading scorers, guard Hamidou Diallo and forward PJ Washington, have combined for only 20 points in the past two games combined. Kentucky ranks ninth in proportion of points from inside the arc and, like UT, loves to draw fouls. Its four leading scorers rank in the top 500 in free throw rate. In all of UK's losses but one, it attempted fewer free throws than its opponent.

The Verdict

It seems intuitive to bet on Kentucky at home after a loss. But let's stick to solid numbers. Away conference dogs who won the last meeting, have the same amount of wins as their opponent are coming off a 20+ point cover and are playing a home favorite coming off a road SU and ATS loss are 8-4 ATS (66.7%) since 2008. Moreover, UK has just one home conference cover in five tries -- against a Mississippi State team that shot an absurd 5-for-29 from three.

Tennessee has the tools to succeed on the road by preventing Kentucky from gaining too much momentum. It ranks 15 spots better in KenPom's defensive efficiency and about 100 spots better in both turnover percentage allowed and forced. UT boasts one of the best half-court offenses behind its two distributors at point guard. Meanwhile, Kentucky's strength on offense will be limited by Tennessee's stout interior defense that ranks 27th in opposing two-point percentage.

Expect Tennessee to keep surging on our NCAAB Picks behind a strong defense, better ball security, more depth and physicality in rebounding and drawing fouls.

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