Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Pick

Tennessee Volunteers (16-1) -5, 149 O/U at Kentucky Wildcats (7-9) +5, 149 O/U, Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky., 9 PM Eastern, Tuesday
by Badger of Predictem.com

The No. 3-ranked Tennessee Volunteers will try and complete a 12-game winning streak, a feat they havent accomplished in 20 years, when the travel to the Rupp Arena to take on SEC foe Kentucky in the second game of ESPNs Super Tuesday coverage.

The Volunteers come into the game tonight with lots of momentum. They revenged their loss to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament last season by beating the Buckeyes last Saturday, 74-69. The win was number 11 in the streak, and also allowed the Vols to move up to No. 3 in the rankings, their highest rank ever in school history.

Kentucky has been struggling under first-year coach Billy Gillispie, although they have been playing better of late. The Wildcats lost a heartbreaker last time out, dropping an 81-70 overtime decision to Florida. Ramel Bradley drilled a 3-pointer with just 2 seconds remaining in the game to put it into overtime, but the Wildcats fell apart in the extra session. The loss was Kentuckys second in a row in SEC play and their eighth in their last 11 games overall.

Basketball Sportsbooks opened the game with Tennessee as a 4-point favorite, with an opening total of 149.

Tennessee has always been one of the nations best scoring teams under head coach Bruce Pearl, but this season they are getting it from virtually their whole roster. The Vols are 5th in the country at 85.6 points per game and 1st overall in assists at 20.2 per game, so you know they like to share the rock. It shows in their scoring averages too, as JaJuan Smith (14.8 ppg), Chris Lofton (13.4 ppg), Tyler Smith (13.3 ppg) and J.P. Prince (10.9 ppg) all reach double figures.


Kentucky has gotten stronger on offense as the season has gone on, and they are now over the 70-point mark with a 72.1 points per game average (124th). They are good inside (46.7 percent from floor), but they continue to struggle shooting 3-pointers as their 35.2 3-point shooting average indicates. Freshman forward Patrick Peterson is one of the Wildcats biggest bright spots, as he leads the team in points (16.6 ppg), rebounds (8.0 rpg) and blocks (1.4 bpg). Bradley has been contributing more lately, as he had 23 points in the loss to Florida.

Tennessee does give up some points defensively, allowing an average of 68.2 points per game (166th). They also give up some easy baskets (42 percent from floor – 112th), but they do an excellent job of limiting the damage from deep range by allowing teams to shoot just 28.9 from beyond 3-point range (10th).

The one thing that Gillispie has been able to get Kentucky do right away is play defense. The Wildcats allow opponents just a 38.9 percent shooting percentage, the 23rd best average in the land. They do allow a 33.4 percent average from 3-point range though, which is sure to get tested versus the Vols.

Neither team has made bettors much money this season, as Tennessee is just 7-6 ATS so far while Kentucky is a worse 4-8-1 ATS. Both teams failed to cover the last time out, after they both covered the previous two.

Surprisingly, Tennessee has come under the total in three straight games despite their wide-open style of play. For the year they are 5-8 versus the total, although they have been chasing numbers in the high 150s most of the time.

Kentucky has gone over the total in eight of their 13 games so far this season. The over is also a strong play at Rupp Arena, as the Cats have gone over in six of their last eight at home and six of their last eight on Tuesday night.

The teams have split their season series the past two years, with Kentucky beating the Vols at Rupp last year, 76-57, in what Pearl called – one of the worst in his tenure. The Wildcats have won seven of the last eight games in Lexington straight up.

Badgers Pick: There once was a time when even having a thought of betting against the Wildcats at home in the Rupp arena was unheard of, but those were different times. Tennessee is deep, has great inside-outside balance, and is playing with the motivation of getting off to the best start in school history. With the early money on Kentucky at home (Tennessee is down to -4.5 or even -4 at some sportsbooks), it makes me like the Vols even more. Take Tennessee minus the points.