By RICHARD CHEEKS
It seems that every year the SEC wars prove more difficult for the Cats than many people expect. The 2016 SEC season has been everything that fans have learned to expect. The Cats have posted impressive road wins over Arkansas, Alabama, and last Saturday at Tennessee.
However, the SEC record has been blemished by embarrassing, and inexplicable losses at LSU, Auburn, and Tennessee. The Cats are not finished on the SEC road with difficult trips to Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Florida remaining. No one should expect those worthy opponents to play dead for the Cats, but given the Cats’ strong performances this entire season against teams ranked in the top 50, there is no reason to believe that the Cats will not turn in high-level performances in those three games, win or lose.
The Cats will have an opportunity to avenge two of these three loses, starting tonight when Tennessee visits Rupp for a rematch. LSU will also appear on the Rupp floor in the last regular season game. Paybacks are hell, and there is no reason to believe either of those rematches will be anything less than the Cats treating these two opponents with no respect on that court. No rematch will be possible for cellar dweller Auburn, but next season, the Cats will begin another significantly long wining streak against the “men from the plains.”
If this UK basketball team was a stock traded on Wall Street, its value would be rising fast in a falling market of overall college basketball. The Cats now stand at the top of the SEC tied with LSU with 9-3 records. The Cats are now favored to finish as the last team standing in the SEC in less than three weeks. Finally, I believe the Cats will again be favored to win the 2016 SEC Tournament yet again. These Cats are in the midst of a major late season surge.
Tennessee brings a 12-13; 5-7 record into this rematch with the Cats. The Cats record now stands at 19-6, 9-3 in the SEC, and as noted previously, one of those three conference losses occurred on February 2 in Knoxville when the Cats fell asleep at the wheel and allowed Tennessee to come back from a 21 point deficit to beat the Cats by 7.
Since that embarrassment, the Cats have responded with three straight wins. However, to be fair, characterizing the Cats’ post Tennessee accomplishments simply as “wins” is an understatement. The Cats defeated #32 Florida by 19, #81 Georgia by 34, and #59 South Carolina by 27 in Columbia. In contrast, Tennessee has lost two of its three games since it stole that victory from the Cats. Tennessee did place a nice 26 point win over #183 Auburn between losses to #88 Arkansas by 18 and to hapless #168 Missouri by 11.
TENNESSEE has played its 25 D1 games at an average tempo of about 72 to 73 possessions per game, scoring 76.5 ppg (1.057 ppp) and allowing an average 75.0 ppg (1.035 ppp). TENNESSEE has turned the ball over on 15.4% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 18.1% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, TENNESSEE has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 32.4%, and a defensive rebounding rate of 64.7%. The Tennessee schedule has a strength of schedule of 0.6414 (#51).
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 possessions per game, producing 78.8 ppg (1.126 ppp) and allowing 66.9 ppg (0.954 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.2% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 19.0% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 38.6% and 68.8% on the offensive and defensive ends. The Cats have a strength of schedule of 0.6715 (#29).
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Kentucky with a theoretical margin of 15 points, 82-67 in a game played at a pace of 71 possessions for the Cats and 71 possessions for Tennessee. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 16 points, 85-69 at a pace of 70 possessions. Vegas opened with the Cats a 14 ½ point favorite, but the line has widened to 17 points this evening.
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