KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As Tennessee prepares to host Kentucky on Saturday, it's important to note the small bit of familiarity these two teams have with one another. Along with Missouri, Kentucky provides one of the only opportunities for Tennessee to play a team twice in the regular season. Coaches and players from both teams will have more knowledge on their opponent than they did when the two teams first met earlier this month.
John Calipari's team's struggles have continued, although the Wildcats are coming off of two straight wins, including a close win over Vanderbilt on Wednesday. At just 7-13 overall this year, a win Saturday could do a couple of things for a program that has fallen on hard times this year. Saturday's matchup provides the Wildcats with an opportunity to get a big win over a ranked rival. It also would get Kentucky to an even 7-7 in conference play on the season. For a team who has struggled as much as this year's Kentucky team, winning this game could provide some hope in finishing the second half of their season on a much more positive note than it began.
Kentucky on Offense:
Kentucky's offense has, to put it nicely, not been great this year. They're averaging just under 70 points per game, which should come as good news to a Tennessee team who is known for playing tough defense.
This team hasn't just developed a bunch of shooters in the last few weeks, so just like the last time these two teams met Kentucky is void of a bunch of guys who can light it up offensively. They've got some good athletes, but the roster doesn't have many shooters. Tennessee should look to force Kentucky to play in a half court setting offensively in an effort to limit easy, transition baskets. If the Wildcats have to run an offense and hit shots consistently for 40 minutes, they will be hard pressed to win this game.
Kentucky on Defense:
If there's a highlight on defense it's Kentucky's ability to block shots. They're averaging 6.4 blocks per game. For reference, even with Yves Pons down low and the Vols' defensive prowess, Tennessee is averaging 4.6 blocks each game. If the Vols are going to score inside on Saturday, they will need to go up strong with the ball.
Unlike several of Tennessee's recent opponents, Kentucky will likely play little to no zone. Calipari's team has stayed mostly in man-to-man defenses throughout the year. The Vols have struggled many times against zone defenses this year, but hot shooting from beyond the arc helped propel the Vols to a big win on Wednesday.
Kentucky's defense will give up shots throughout the game. Rick Barnes' team may try and get out and run once again Saturday, as they have had a lot of success as their pace of play has picked up recently. If the Vols are forced to play in the half court, back cuts and motion could create some easy opportunities. The Wildcats are long and rangy, but they're not always the toughest defensive team. Physically the Cats just aren't an overly strong team. Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer had terrific games the last time these two teams met, so they could try and replicate the successes that they had earlier in the month.
The Vols and Wildcats will play in Knoxville at 1:00 PM on CBS.