Matchup: #1 Kentucky Wildcats at Tennessee Volunteers
Date/Time: February 17, 7:00 p.m. ET
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After two scares on the road, the Kentucky Wildcats returned home to pummel the South Carolina Gamecocks in their most lopsided win since January 13 and they’re hoping to ride that momentum into Tuesday night’s game against the Tennessee Volunteers. The Volunteers limp into this game with losses in five of their last seven against SEC competition and off of their worst loss of the season. Tennessee was hammered by LSU in a 73-55 loss as they were looking ahead to this matchup with Kentucky. The Wildcats are a big double-digit favorite yet again for this ESPN telecast.
Just six games stand between the Kentucky Wildcats and a perfect regular season. After surviving against LSU, the Wildcats put it all together and looked like the team we saw earlier this season in their 34-point win over South Carolina. The Wildcats snapped out of an offensive funk with 77 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor. They owned the Gamecocks on the glass with a 45-21 rebounding edge. If John Calipari challenged the ‘Cats, they responded in a big way. With a win, the Wildcats can pass the 1953-54 team for the best start in program history at 26-0.
The blowout win allowed Kentucky to get back to using their entire roster, as no player played more than 25 minutes. That’s been the norm throughout the season, which is why Aaron Harrison leads the Wildcats with just 11.1 points per game. Devin Booker is the only other UK player in double figures on a regular basis. Willie Cauley-Stein had 14 in the win over South Carolina to improve to 9.4 points per game to go along with over six rebounds. Dakari Johnson had a double-double in the win with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
First-year head coach Donnie Tyndall will likely fall short of the NCAA Tournament this season, which makes the year a big disappointment coming off of a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Cuonzo Martin led the Vols to the Sweet Sixteen and then bolted for the head coaching job at Cal. Some big losses from last season’s team took away a lot of production entering the 2014-15 season. Jordan McRae’s 18.7 points per game left the program, as did the 15 points and 10 rebounds from Jarnell Stokes. McRae is playing in the D-League and Stokes is a reserve for the Memphis Grizzlies. Without those two players, the Vols have dropped off by eight points per game and six rebounds per game.
Josh Richardson has picked up some of the slack by improving from 10.3 points per game to 16 points per game. Armani Moore and Kevin Punter are the only other Vols scoring at least 10 points per game. Tennessee is -30 in the assist-to-turnover department, which is another big reason why they have dropped off offensively this season. The Volunteers have stepped up in class with some success this season. They have wins over Butler and Arkansas to go along with losses to VCU and Kansas. Those are the only ranked opponents they have faced this season.
Kentucky is 25-0 straight up, but they are just 12-13 against the spread. Their cover against South Carolina was their first cover in the last six games. They are 16-9 to the under in their 25 games. Tennessee has been a big disappointment to bettors this season, unless they have been going against the Volunteers. Tennessee is 14-10 straight up, but they are just 8-14-2 against the spread. Like the Wildcats, the under has been a good play in Tennessee games with a 15-9 record.
Free College Basketball Picks: Tennessee Volunteers
The Wildcats are in “win and get out” mode on the road, as evidenced by their performances against Florida and LSU. The Volunteers will treat this game like it’s their Super Bowl and they have enough defensive intensity to keep this game close. Their offensive efficiency is a bigger worry in regards to covering the number, but they should be able to muck it up enough to stay within the spread.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.