Tennessee (11-5, 2-1 SEC) at No. 13 Kentucky (12-4, 2-1)
Saturday, Jan. 18, 12:05 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena (23,500) . Lexington, Ken.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Kentucky leads 149-67
Probable Kentucky Starters
G-Andrew Harrison, 6-6, 215, FR (10.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.5 apg)
G-Aaron Harrison, 6-6, 218, FR (14.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 spg)
G-James Young, 6-6, 215, FR, (14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
F-Julius Randle, 6-9, 250, FR, (16.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg)
C-Willie Cauley-Stein, 7-0, 245, SO (8.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.6 bpg)
Key Reserves: Alex Poythress (6-8, 240, SO); Dominique Hawkins (6-0, 193, FR); Dakari Johnson (7-0, 265, FR); Marcus Lee (6-9, 215, FR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Antonio Barton, 6-2, 180, SR, (8.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .414 3FG%)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (18.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.9 apg)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .444 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.6 orpg)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (13.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.1 orpg)
Key Reserves: Darius Thompson (6-5, 180, FR); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); D’Montre Edwards (6-6, 205, SR)
The opening tip
Tennessee only gets one crack at Kentucky this regular season. SEC expansion has changed how the conference schedules basketball and that means the Wildcats won’t come to Knoxville for the first time since the 1952-53 season.
If UT wants a resume-boosting win over the Wildcats – a victory that certainly would change the course of UT’s season – the Vols will have to do it in Lexington, a place where UK owns an 87-16 all-time edge in this series. UT has only won four times at Rupp Arena (1977, 1979, 1999 and 2006) since it opened in 1976 .
But past results are arguably irrelevant against Kentucky in this day and age. Coach John Calipari has mastered the art of the one-and-done – bringing in top-rated recruits, keeping them there for a season, breeding them for the NBA and sending them off to the NBA draft after just a few months in Lexington.
That means a mass exodus of talent after most seasons, followed by an influx of blue-chip recruits. So UT’s shocking 88-58 win over Kentucky in Knoxville last year means very little. This is a new Kentucky squad.
Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are notable holdovers from 2012-13, but it’s mostly talented freshmen carrying the load outside of that “veteran” duo of sophomores.
Freshman twins Andrew Harrison (10.6 ppg) and Aaron Harrison (14.1 ppg) handle most of the backcourt duties, while freshman forward Julius Randle (16.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg), a likely top-10 pick this year, might be the most talented player on the roster overall.
Still, there are more freshmen to be aware of. Swingman James Young, guard Dominique Hawkins, center Dakari Johnson and forward Marcus Lee are talented players with NBA potential, who might be stars of other programs, that take a backseat to some of UK’s other stars at times.
In total, 98.8 percent of Kentucky’s scoring comes from underclassmen. Tennessee, on the other hand, gets 83.8 percent of its scoring production from upperclassmen.
And if the Vols are going to have a shot in this one, they’ll need veteran stars such as Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes to show up. Stokes and fellow big man Jeronne Maymon will have their hands full trying to rebound against Kentucky’s size. Rebounding has been important in this series. The team that’s held the advantage in that category has won the last seven contests.
Tennessee, which has the best scoring defense in the league (58.0 points per game), will need to keep Kentucky out of the lane and force the relatively inexperienced Wildcats to rely on the 3 ball – where they average just over 30 percent from behind the arc.
Which Tennessee team will show up? Though the Vols have won five of their last six there has been a clear drop off in the last two games – a loss to Texas A&M and an ugly win over Auburn. UT needs the team that sailed through a four-game winning streak in late December and early January to show up on Saturday.
“They are their usual Kentucky team. They are going to be tough to beat at home, but I think we can manage.”
– Tennessee guard Jordan McRae
Though Kentucky has a commanding 149-67 all-time record in this series, Tennessee has recorded more wins over the Wildcats than any other program. . Last year’s 88-58 win for Tennessee was the biggest loss for Calipari since the 1988-89 season. . Guard Antonio Barton has been a bigger scoring threat for UT in recent games. He’s scored at least 10 points in the last five contests and is averaging 13.0 ppg during that stretch. . Three teams in the SEC have a positive all-time win/loss record against UT: Kentucky, Missouri and Alabama. . Tennessee dropped its first two road games of the season, but started SEC play 1-0 on the road with a win at LSU. . Dating back to last year, the Vols have a two-game road winning streak in conference play. . Tennessee and Kentucky have played 216 times in history, making it the oldest and most-played basketball rivalry in the SEC.
Kentucky 79, Tennessee 68
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga