The Tennessee Volunteers and Kentucky Wildcats meet at Rupp Arena in a rare spot where Kentucky is an underdog in Lexington, only the second time since 2009. Teams don’t go into Rupp Arena and beat the Wildcats, or at least, that’s how it used to be before this 2020-21 campaign. 2020 and 2021 haven’t been normal years, nor has this season been normal for the Wildcats.
Kentucky enters Saturday night with a record of 5-11 in a season where the Wildcats have been off the map. It’s been weird seeing North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky out of the national discussion. This season has been Gonzaga, Baylor, and then everyone else. There hasn’t been any room for those three teams.
Kentucky has to win the SEC to get into the NCAA Tournament. There is going to be no other way for the Wildcats. John Calipari has been clearly frustrated with how things have transpired. He is being paid $9 million a year to win basketball games, and that’s not what he’s been accomplishing in 2020-21. If there is any season to have an off year, it has to be this one during Covid-19, though.
There have been Kentucky fans calling for Calipari to be fired. If the Wildcats struggle into next season, those groans are going to get louder and louder. Unlike previous Kentucky teams, this group has been mentally weak and doesn’t know how to finish. They’ve hung around against some good teams, including a recent 75-70 loss against ranked Missouri on the road.
No. 18 Missouri was able to fend off a late push by the Wildcats in the second-half to hang on for a five-point win. Dru Smith was a bit much for Kentucky to contain, as he scored 26 points and 7 rebounds. Georgia is a pretty good team also, and they came up short by a point on January 20, 63-62. Their most impressive win was on January 9 against Florida in Gainesville, a 76-58 win.
There have been moments where the Wildcats have looked good, but not nearly enough. The Volunteers are coming off a 52-50 loss against Ole Miss on Tuesday. This is their first back-to-back on the road this year. The No. 11 Volunteers haven’t looked like the 11th best team in the NCAA over the last few weeks from what I’ve seen.
Tennessee is just 2-3 in their last five games, with only one win by more than three points. They looked in fine form against Kansas in a 80-61, but other than that, it’s been too inconsistent for Kentucky since mid-January. Head below for our free Tennessee vs. Kentucky pick on February 6, 2021.
Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats NCAA Betting Odds:
Tennessee vs. Kentucky Prediction:
Tennessee will have to see their playmakers step up on the road in Lexington on Saturday evening. They were invisible against Ole Miss the other day. With a chance to win the game, it was there on a silver platter, but Tennessee punted the thing away with a lack of plays down the stretch. Tennessee scored only 22 points in the second-half, as they couldn’t figure out the 8-8 Ole Miss Rebels’ defense. Yves Pons was the leading-scorer for the Vols with just 13 points.
This effort was consistent with their last outing on the road against Florida on January 19. Tennessee netted only 49 points in that one, so they’ve been accustomed to struggling to score as a visitor. In fact, this has become a recurring theme for Tennessee on the road this season. The most they’ve scored is 73 points in a 73-53 win on January 30. Overall, Tennessee has put up 71.8 points per game for 178th in the NCAA. Not great, but certainly respectable. When they go on the road, that figure drops like a rock to just 60 points per game.
The Wildcats have had a respectable defense, with 68.7 points against per game for 143rd in the country. Their defensive pressure should be just enough to throw a below average Tennessee offense off their game in Lexington. Note that Kentucky has played the third most difficult schedule in the NCAA. That is no excuse for Calipari and the Wildcats, but they’ve been in some tricky spots.
Conversely, I’ve felt that Tennessee has been overvalued and overrated this season. I don’t see them as the No. 11 team in the country, and they haven’t been consistent the past few weeks. Tennessee has scored 59.8 points a game through their last five, and a 80-61 win over Kansas at home is their only positive showing. Sorry, beating Mississippi State at home, 56-53, isn’t much of an accomplishment.
I wish the total was a little higher here, because I think it’s going to be a grind fest. Neither team is going to shoot the ball exceptionally well, but 125 points looks awfully sharp. In any event, it’s hard to lay points with a Tennessee team that is seeing a lid on the rim on the road. This is going to be a tight contest, which bodes well for the home underdog at Rupp Arena.