Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Tennessee Volunteers (18-5 SU, 9-10-1 ATS) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (23-1 SU, 11-11 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, February 13, 2010, Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Tennessee +9.5/Kentucky -9.5
Over/Under: 147

Kentucky is breezing through its schedule on its way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats’ only setback was a 68-62 loss at South Carolina on January 26. Other than that, the ‘Cats have been virtually unbeatable. But if any SEC team can give them a tough test at Rupp Arena, it’s the Tennessee Volunteers.

Kentucky started off the season 19-0 before losing that game at South Carolina. Since then, the ‘Cats have won four games in a row, defeating Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama. In their last game, on Tuesday, they defeated Alabama 66-55 at home. John Wall had a rather normal game with 22 points, 10 rebounds and six turnovers. DeMarcus Cousins, a double-double machine lately, had 16 points and 13 rebounds. The ‘Cats shot 46 percent from the field but just 3-of-16 on 3-pointers. Their outside shooting is certainly their biggest flaw, making just 33.7 percent of their 3-point attempts in conference play.

They also committed 16 turnovers, six of which were by Wall, which is another flaw, as they are averaging 14.3 per game in conference play and 14.5 for the season. Wall is averaging more than four turnovers per game for the season. They did play great defense in their win over Alabama, holding the Crimson Tide to 33 percent shooting from the field and 4-for-14 from 3-point range. They also out-rebounded Alabama by 11. Kentucky holds a rebounding advantage of almost six per game in conference play and almost 10 per game for the season. They are also holding opponents to 38 percent shooting from the field in conference play.

Tennessee was looking great for a while when the Vols were on a seven-game winning streak in late December and January. But since then, they’ve gone just 3-3 with losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt twice, and wins over Florida, LSU and South Carolina. The Vols need a statement win like this one at Kentucky to prove they still deserve a high seed. If they can’t get this victory, they will have to play strong down the stretch, but they still have to face Kentucky again and they have to play on the road at Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi State.

In their last game, the Vols lost at Vanderbilt on Tuesday, 90-71. J.P. Prince led the team in scoring with 19 points, including 3-for-3 on 3-pointers, Wayne Chism scored 16 points, Melvin Goins had 11, and Scotty Hopson chipped in with 10 points, despite shooting just 4-for-14 from the field. The Vols shot 40 percent from the field and 6-for-17 on 3-pointers. They got out-rebounded by 14 and allowed Vanderbilt to get to the free throw line 43 times, more than double (21) the amount of free throws the Vols attempted. They have to play much tougher than that down low against a very big, physical Kentucky team that includes a strong frontline of Cousins and Patrick Patterson.

Tennessee is only shooting 30 percent on 3-pointers in conference play and 42.5 percent from the field, but the Vols are holding SEC opponents to 39.7 percent shooting from the field. They’re also forcing 15 turnovers per game in conference play and 17.9 per game for the season. Kentucky is very vulnerable when it comes to turnovers, so if the Vols can force a lot of them and get some easy baskets in transition, that’s their best chance of winning this game. Both of these teams are strong defensive teams, so it will be important to get some easy baskets. The ‘Cats also force more than 14 turnovers per game in conference play, but the Vols are better at taking care of the ball with just 12.2 turnovers per game in SEC play.

Tennessee is 2-5-1 ATS in its last eight games following an ATS loss and 1-5 ATS in its last six games overall. Kentucky is 20-8 ATS in its last 28 games following an ATS loss. The under is 4-0 in the last four meetings between these teams at Kentucky. Tennessee is 0-4 ATS in its last four games against Kentucky and 1-4 ATS in its last five games at Kentucky.

Ryno’s Pick: This game is really tough to pick with regards to the spread. There’s much better value on the board today but if you have to play this game I’d lean to the Vols at +10.