Kentucky Wildcats vs. Tennessee Volunteers Pick 3/2/19
Kentucky Wildcats (24-4 SU, 16-12 ATS) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (25-3 SU, 13-13-2 ATS)
When: Saturday, March 2, 2019 – 2 PM ET
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
Point Spread: UK +2.5/TENN -2.5 (Bookmaker)
Total: O/U 141
Last Time Out: Kentucky edged Arkansas 70-66; Tennessee escaped Mississippi 73-71.
Scouting the Wildcats:
Prior to their narrow escape against Arkansas, there had been nothing narrow about what Kentucky was doing. The Wildcats are perhaps the nation’s most improved team over the course of the season, as they’ve gone from getting blown out by Duke on opening night to putting themselves in the mix for a No. 1 seed. The main reason for the Wildcats’ progress is the progress of P.J. Washington, who had scored in double figures in 12 straight games before Tuesday’s win over Arkansas. When Washington is on, the Wildcats are as good as anyone in the nation. But when he doesn’t produce a good game, Kentucky is vulnerable — a fact Arkansas nearly proved earlier this week.
Scouting the Volunteers:
So who is Tennessee, really? Are the Volunteers the team that’s won 25 games and established themselves as a genuine contender for the SEC and the national title, or are they the team that’s just 1-3 all season against ranked squads and appears to be a product of their schedule? Honestly, it’s still not clear after the Vols got beat by LSU a week ago. Now they have a chance to right the ship by facing Kentucky at home, and to do so, they’ve got to get big games from their big guns. In the teams’ first meeting, Grant Williams took all of four shots, and while Admiral Schofield did score 17 points, he had to take 18 shots to do it. If the Volunteers’ stars aren’t stars, Kentucky has a big edge.
Reid Travis. The forward sprained his knee against Missouri a week and a half ago, and he hasn’t played since that game. Kentucky is 2-0 without him, but the Wildcats have a genuine concern about whether they’ll be able to stop Grant Williams if he’s not on the floor. Travis is an excellent defensive combination of height, weight, and experience, and his replacements of E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards only sport one of those three attributes, height. If Williams is allowed to do whatever he wants, Kentucky’s chances of beating Tennessee drop significantly. Travis is doubtful for this game, but John Calipari did not rule him out after Friday’s practice. If he plays, Williams could be in for another rough night.
Kentucky will Cover if:
The Wildcats own the paint again. Kentucky has produced on the glass all season long, and the Wildcats have to do the same thing again to control the game and take Tennessee’s stars out of the contest. As great as Williams and Schofield are, there is little that they can do when they don’t have the ball. The more Kentucky attacks the interior with Washington and others, the more frustrated the Volunteers are likely to become.
Tennessee will Cover if:
The Volunteers can get themselves inside the 3-point arc. Tennessee doesn’t have the inside strength to go toe-to-toe with Kentucky on the glass, but the Volunteers really didn’t even try to force the issue when the teams met in Lexington. Instead, Tennessee jacked up 3-point attempt after 3-point attempt, and the Volunteers ended up shooting just 40.7 percent from the floor for the game, going 7-for-25 from 3-point range. That’s a problem because Tennessee is at its best when it opts for mid-range shots and short shots, not 3-pointers. For the season, the Volunteers are 23-1 when they shoot fewer than 25 3-point attempts and 2-2 when they go over that total.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Throw out the results of the first game. Travis is unlikely to play, and even if he does play, he’s unlikely to be anywhere full strength as he was in the teams’ first meeting. So the question now becomes, which of these teams do you trust at this point in the season?
For me, the team I trust is Kentucky. The Wildcats have been through more battles than the Volunteers, and they’ve been more consistent than the Volunteers have. Plus, Tennessee hasn’t exactly acquitted itself well in the games they’ve played since losing in Lexington. Wheezing past Vanderbilt, losing to LSU and barely escaping from Ole Miss is not going to impress anyone, especially when Kentucky followed up by throttling Auburn.
Until Tennessee proves that it’s on the level of other contenders, I don’t feel comfortable trusting them against one of those contenders, even at home. I’ll take Kentucky in this contest.