Tennessee (8-6, 0-2 SEC) at Kentucky (10-5, 1-1 SEC)
Tuesday, Jan. 15, 7:00 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena (23,500) . Lexington, Ken.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Kentucky leads, 148-66
Probable Kentucky Starters
F-Willie Cauley-Stein, 7-0, 245, FR, (7.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, .622 FG%)
F-Nerlens Noel, 6-10, 228, FR, (10.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.7 bpg)
F-Alex Poythress, 6-7, 240, FR, (13.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, .632 FG%)
G-Archie Goodwin, 6-4, 198, FR, (15.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.6 apg)
G-Ryan Harrow, 6-2, 170, SO, (10.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, .344 3FG%)
Key Reserves: Kyle Wiltjer (6-10, 240, SO); Julius Mays (6-2, 192, GRAD); Jarrod Polson (6-2, 189, JR).
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Kenny Hall, 6-9, 230, SR, (6.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, .544 FG%)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (11.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, .523 FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (8.4 ppg, 5.3 rp, 505 FG%)
G-Skylar McBee, 6-3, 195, SR, (6.1 ppg, 1.0 rpg, .312 3PT%)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-5, 178, JR, (13.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .328 3PT%)
Key Reserves: Trae Golden (6-2, 205, JR); Armani Moore (6-5, 205, FR); Yemi Makanjuola (6-9, 250, SO); Derek Reese (6-7, 218, FR).
The opening tip
The Vols will face mostly unfamiliar faces when they tip it off against Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. Kentucky coach John Calipari’s philosophy of bringing in mostly one-and-done players paid off with the school’s first national title since 1998 last season, but this year’s squad has looked far more inconsistent to this point.
The Wildcats were shocked by Texas A&M on Saturday when the Aggies, a team that recently lost to Southern, marched into Rupp on their inaugural SEC visit and came away with an 81-73 win.
But though this fresh batch of young stars has struggled at times this season, that doesn’t mean that the Wildcats can be taken lightly by Tennessee or most any other SEC team. The frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein is improving every game and has the size and length to alter almost shot in the lane.
Point guard Ryan Harrow doesn’t have the explosiveness of former Calipari point guards Derrick Rose and John Wall, but he’s learning to manage the offense. Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer and Archie Goodwin are all a threat to score 20 on any given night.
Tennessee, meanwhile, limps into this contest on a three-game losing streak. Coach Cuonzo Martin liked his team’s effort in a 68-65 loss at Alabama, but he also knows an 0-3 SEC start wouldn’t bode well for his team’s postseason chances.
The Vols are looking for consistency at point guard. Trae Golden is now coming off the bench while versatile swingman Jordan McRae is helping out with the point responsibilities. Freshman Armani Moore is also getting an opportunity to play more at the point.
Getting the ball to forward Jarnell Stokes will also be a key Tuesday night. The sophomore, who made his collegiate debut against Kentucky last season, scored only six points at Alabama and sat on the bench for many of the critical minutes down the stretch.
Martin on Stokes getting more touches: “I think the next step for Jarnell is to demand the ball every time they go down. . I think he can be more aggressive.”
Though Kentucky owns a 148-66 edge in the all-time series, the Vols have more wins (66) over the Wildcats than any other program in the nation. . Only three SEC schools – Kentucky, Alabama and Missouri – own a winning record over the Vols. . This will be the first time in eight years that at least one of the two teams hasn’t been ranked going into this matchup. . Kentucky returns no starters from last season. . Jordan McRae has led the Vols the last three games in scoring with an average of 24.3 point per game.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga