By RICHARD CHEEKS
Despite coming up a little short on Saturday evening in the Phog, the revived Kentucky Wildcats will stay on the road and move from the Phog to the Smokies where they will face a challenge from Rocky Top’s Tennessee Volunteers on Tuesday. As the Cats traveled back east from Kansas, they flew over Mark Twain country, and undoubtedly recalled “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Yes, this UK basketball team has gotten up from its death bed, and has more than a mere pulse. This team has played as well over the last 4 games as any team in the nation.
The Phog poses a daunting obstacle that any visiting team must overcome if they want to leave with a rare win. Oklahoma, the consensus #1 team in the land today, could only get the Jayhawks into overtime, but still left with a loss. The Cats did the same on Saturday. Any Cat fan would have preferred to get out of there with a win, of course, but in the grand scheme of things, the Cats would beat this Kansas team at any other venue.
So, now it is time to get back up, brush off the dust, and move on to the next challenge.
The Cats’ next challenge occurs on Tuesday night in the heart of the Smokies where those Orange clad Volunteers lay in wait for an ambush. If the Cats maintain their new found focus and energy, they should get out of the Smokies back on the winning track at the mid-point of their 2016 SEC race.
Tennessee brings a 16-4 record into this Big12-SEC showdown matchup with the Cats, who also sport a 16-4 record. Tennessee has suffered losses t #7 Michigan State by 6 in November, at #6 West Virginia by 11, at #68 Oklahoma State by 19, and at #11 Iowa State by 13. Tennessee claims wins over #1 Oklahoma by 3 in triple OT, #25 Baylor by 28, #31 Vanderbilt by 7. In addition to Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky have both played #67 UCLA. Of course, the Cats fell at UCLA while Tennessee defeated the Bruins by 19 on a neutral court.
TENNESSEE has played its first 21 games at an average tempo of about 74 possessions per game, scoring 77.4 ppg (1.051 ppp) and allowing an average 75.9 ppg (1.031 ppp). TENNESSEE has turned the ball over on 16.0% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 17.9% of opponent possessions.
On the Boards, TENNESSEE has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 31.7%, and a defensive rebounding rate of 65.6%. The Tennessee schedule has a strength of schedule of 0.6491.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 possessions per game, producing 78.2 ppg (1.109 ppp) and allowing 67.5 ppg (0.951 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.5% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 19.1% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 38.8% and 69.8% on the offensive and defensive ends. The Cats have a strength of schedule of 0.6306.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Kentucky by 4 points, 76-73 in a game played at a pace of 72 possessions for the Cats and 72 possessions for Tennessee. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 4 points, 79-75 at a pace of 72 possessions.
Vegas opened Monday evening with the Cats favored by 4 points, but by Tuesday morning the line has moved to between 6 ½ and 7 points. The ANE analysis is based on the average efficiency of each team based on the entire season’s body of work. When the surge is isolated, the Cats move to a 9 point favorite in Knoxville.