Tennessee at Kentucky College Hoops Pick – Jan 15th

Louisville handled their business last night, roaring back in a dominant second half at UConn to strengthen their grip on the newly-acquired number one ranking.  The same can be said for #4 Kansas who waxed Baylor at home and looked like one of the best teams in the country, justifying their big move in the polls ahead of previously unbeaten Michigan and Arizona.  More and more this season a group of top teams are starting to slowly edge away from the middle of the pack, and Louisville and Kansas are certainly among them.

A team who is not in that group is the loaded but struggling defending champs, Kentucky.  The Wildcats are heading the wrong way fast after last week’s controversial two-point win at Vanderbilt and their subsequent double-digit home loss to lightly regarded Texas A&M.  Could trouble be brewing for Big Blue??  Let’s take a deeper look at the Wildcats in today’s free pick.

Tennessee Volunteers at Kentucky Wildcats -13

It’s no secret that Tennessee has long fashioned Kentucky as their hoops rival, while for Kentucky fans and faithful, it’s really just another game.  Kentucky fans see their rivals as Louisville, Indiana, even Duke, and see their chief conference rival to be Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators.  Tennessee is just a other game, despite the fact that Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville was famously built to be exactly ten seats larger than Rupp Arena…

But it’s not just another game for Big Blue tonight, in fact, it is a crossroad.  Win, and win convincingly, and they can get back to the business at hand of continuing to grow and develop and evolve into a dangerous team for March Madness; lose, and the ‘madness’ truly begins as the question becomes, “could Kentucky really miss the NCAA Tournament???”

I don’t see this team missing March Madness, but I also don’t see them winning by 13 tonight.  How on EARTH are they laying 13 points after struggling against a terrible Vanderbilt teams and losing by double digits at HOME to an A&M squad that certainly isn’t any better than the Vols??  It is the most surprised I’ve been by a line this season…

Tennessee hasn’t inspired much confidence, but they have played some tough teams very well.  They have beaten Xavier and Wichita State, and lost by just a few points against Georgetown, Memphis and @ Alabama.  The recent 92-74 loss at Ole Miss may still be resonating, but keep in mind Ole Miss is now 13-2 and one of the most pleasant surprises (along with Oregon) in the country.

Tennessee has some offensive limitations, but will play good enough defense to muck it up with Kentucky and keep the tempo frustrating.  If that isn’t enough to win it should certainly be enough to keep the game closer than thirteen points.

It isn’t just that Kentucky has five losses (Notre Dame, Duke, Baylor, Louisville and Texas A&M), it’s that once you eliminate those five game off the schedule, the best opponents they’ve faced are Maryland in the season opener and… I don’t know…. Marshall?  Lipscomb?  LIU?  Samford, Eastern Michigan, Portland, Morehead State?  It’s a terrible schedule and the Wildcats don’t have a single Top 100 win outside of Maryland (unless MAYBE Marshall sneaks in the 80’s or 90’s somewhere).

The point is – this is not the dominant Kentucky team casual betters still think they are.  Laying 13 is insane.  Now the Cats could magically come together for a night, the talent is there, but NOTHING in this season’s repertoire indicates they are 13 points better than Tennessee.

Free Pick:  Tennessee Volunteers +13