Busting Brackets

Tennessee vs. Kentucky: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Feb 6, 2021; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) shoots against Tennessee Volunteers guard Jaden Springer (11) and guard Yves Pons (35) during the first half at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. Mandatory Credit: Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2021; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) shoots against Tennessee Volunteers guard Jaden Springer (11) and guard Yves Pons (35) during the first half at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. Mandatory Credit: Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

In a rematch of an early February tilt, the surging Kentucky Wildcats will travel to the 19th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday.

TV schedule: Saturday, February 20, 1:00 pm ET. CBS

Arena: Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee

Just 14 days removed from the first meeting, the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers will meet again in an afternoon SEC showdown – under different circumstances than when they last met.

The Wildcats (7-13) have, obviously, endured their well-documented struggles – but are actually in the midst of their first multi-game win streak since starting SEC play 3-0 back at the start of January.  After dropping four-straight, Kentucky has rallied off back-to-back single-digit wins over Auburn (82-80) and Vanderbilt (82-78).

Kentucky’s showing against Vanderbilt was, arguably, one of their best of the season, running out to a 25-8 lead to begin the game – before finishing with a points per possession average of 1.11.  The Wildcats did not necessarily shoot the ball well, recording clips of just 48.6% (2PT) and 30.8% (3PT) – but were a blistering 24-25 from the charity stripe, hauled down 15 offensive rebounds, and blocked 11 shots.

Subsequently, the Wildcats saw their offense spread out across five different double-digit scorers – with a sixth recording nine points.  Davion Mintz led the way behind 18 points, while Jacob Toppin had his first double-figure game in over a month with 16 points.  Joining them were Isaiah Jackson (15 points, nine boards), Brandon Boston Jr. (12 points, three steals), and Olivier Sarr (10 points, four blocks).

They will clash with a Tennessee squad that has gone through a similar tumultuous stretch, having dropped two of its last five – and, overall, four of its last nine.  After routing Kentucky back on February 6th, the Volunteers (15-5) edged past Georgia by single-digits, then were dismantled by LSU on the road, and – most recently – throttled South Carolina on Wednesday, 93-73.

Tennessee’s win over the Gamecocks yielded one of the Volunteers’ best offensive performances all season, with their 93 points being their highest output since scoring 102 against Saint Joseph’s back on December 21st.  En route to averaging 1.22 points per possession, the Volunteers dominated South Carolina inside on two-pointers (57.5%, 23-40), outside on long-range bombs (47.4%, 23-40), and at the charity stripe (76.9%, 20-26).

Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. had a career day against the Gamecocks, bouncing back from four-straight double-digit games – and a scoreless showing at LSU – with a 29-point performance (2-6 2PT, 7-10 3PT, 4-6 FT) to go with four assists.

He was not alone, either – John Fulkerson (19), Jaden Springer (16), and Yves Pons (10) all tallied double-figures, while three different players – Springer, Keon Johnson, and Santiago Vescovi – dished out five assists apiece, with the Volunteers finishing with 26 for the game on 32 made field goals.

When these two teams met just two weeks ago, the Volunteers came out on top, 82-71, in a game where they faced an eight-point halftime deficit.  Two key areas that spurred Tennessee’s furious comeback were were points off turnovers – where they outscored Kentucky in the second half, 13-6, after the Wildcats owned the edge in the first stanza – and points in the paint, where the Volunteers edged Kentucky by eight in the latter stanza to claim a 44-30 overall edge.

Despite Kentucky’s stellar play as of late, they could very much run into those issues again, if their stats from their last two wins are any indication.  Against Vanderbilt and Auburn, they actually outscored those two teams in points off turnovers – but still gave up a substantial amount of points (20-16 vs. Vanderbilt, 24-19 vs. Auburn).

Additionally, they have been dismantled in points in the paint, giving up 32 to Auburn – while still scoring 26 of their own – but surrendering a whopping 42 points inside to Vanderbilt.  Neither of Kentucky’s marks in points off turnovers or points in the paint necessarily scream optimism ahead of their showdown with Tennessee, considering the Volunteers are coming off a game where they outscored South Carolina in the paint (36-30) and off turnovers (25-13).

Both teams are coming off games where their offense was incredibly efficient, making defensive play all the more critical in this showdown.  For Kentucky to win, they need to see the balanced offensive that they had against Vanderbilt – and shut down Tennessee’s Johnson and Springer, both of whom broke down Kentucky inside, going a combined 17-28 on two-pointers and 13-15 on freebies to finish with 50 combined points.

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This will very much be a defensive battle for the Wildcats – and that does not bode well for Calipari’s crew, considering they surrendering marks of 1.08 and 1.05 points per possession to Auburn and Vanderbilt, respectively.  Kentucky’s recent play indicates that this could be closer than the 11-point win for Tennessee just days ago – but the Volunteers’ play inside may just be too much for Kentucky to ultimately overcome.

Prediction: Tennessee 84 – Kentucky 77