Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Pick 2/16/19
Tennessee Volunteers (23-1 SU, 13-9-1 ATS) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (20-4 SU, 14-10 ATS)
When: Saturday, February 16, 2019 – 8 p.m. ET
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Point Spread: TENN +4/UK -4 (5Dimes)
Total: O/U 145
Last Time Out: Tennessee beat South Carolina 85-73; Kentucky lost 73-71 to LSU.
Scouting the Volunteers:
The Volunteers have done nothing but win since their December setback to a healthy Kansas squad, and they’ve done it by scoring at a pace that their opponents simply cannot match. Tennessee averages 85.4 points per game and boasts the second-most efficient offense in the country, led by Grant Williams’ 19.4 points per game. Beyond Williams, Tennessee still has an abundance of talent, as eight different Volunteers average at least 12 minutes a night of game action, regularly allowing Rick Barnes to wear down opponents with his squad’s depth.
Scouting the Wildcats:
Was it basket interference on the final play of Kentucky’s loss to LSU? If might have been, and it ended a nine-game winning streak for the Wildcats when the officials did not call it and allowed LSU’s basket to stand for the win. Outside of that, Kentucky has become a much better team than the squad that lost by 32 to Duke on opening night, and the Wildcats have done it by getting nasty on defense. Kentucky has played very few high-scoring games this season and has usually held its opponents to 70 or less. When the Wildcats hold to that number, they’re 17-0. When they don’t, the record drops to just 3-4.
Preparation. If the NCAA tournament began today, there would most likely be six SEC teams invited to the tournament: Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, and Mississippi. Heading into this matchup, Tennessee has played a grand total of none of them. Conversely, the Volunteers have two wins over Missouri, two over South Carolina, two over Florida and wins over Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt. Of those, only Alabama is even close to being in the mix for an at-large bid, and that was one of the closest games Tennessee has played in Knoxville all season. In short, it’s a fair question as to whether the Volunteers are rusty after playing the bottom half of the SEC for a month and a half. Kentucky, in contrast, has two wins over Mississippi State, a road win at Auburn and a controversial two-point loss to LSU. The Wildcats will be battle tested for sure when they step on the court, and Tennessee needs to have an answer to that preparation.
Tennessee will Cover if:
The Volunteers can slow down sophomore forward P.J. Washington. Kentucky’s game plan is built around stopping its opponents from getting going by extending possessions and getting high-percentage looks at the basket, and that usually means getting the ball to Washington and letting him go to work. At 6-foot-8, Washington is both the Wildcats’ leading scorer and their leading rebounder, and shutting him down or slowing him down would make Kentucky a much more vulnerable squad. Last year in three meetings, Tennessee held him to just over seven points per game, which was a major reason why two of the Volunteers’ three meetings with Kentucky last season resulted in a Tennessee victory.
Kentucky will Cover if:
The Wildcats can exert their will on the offensive glass to a major extent. Kentucky has almost always gotten its rebounds, and it’s a big part of why the Wildcats are so efficient at the defensive end of the floor. Inside the SEC, only Alabama has managed to outrebound Kentucky, and it proved a significant factor in the Crimson Tide’s upset of the Wildcats. Tennessee doesn’t quite rebound it as well as Alabama does, but the Volunteers are still pretty solid on the glass and will give Kentucky a fight on the boards. The Wildcats need to show the same intensity they displayed against the likes of North Carolina and Kansas and be sure they win this battle.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
It’s pretty rare that you’re actually getting points with the No. 1 team in the nation. It’s even rarer to turn down those points and take the opponent instead. But that’s what I’m going to do here by picking Kentucky to grab the win and cover the small spread. Why? Because Kentucky has been playing against better opponents than Tennessee has, and it’s still won consistently, its controversial loss to LSU being the notable exception. The Wildcats have two wins against Mississippi State and a win against Auburn as evidence that they can beat good SEC opponents, while Tennessee doesn’t have that to date.
This is where the lack of competition appears like it will catch up with Tennessee. The Vols might have the better record, but would you rather be Tennessee, which hasn’t played much of an opposing schedule in the past month and isn’t sure how it’ll handle adversity, or Kentucky, which has regularly found itself challenged by quality foes? I’d rather be the Wildcats, and that’s going to lead me to take the Wildcats in this top 5 battle.