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Tennessee Basketball: 3 keys for Vols to beat Kentucky in top-10 matchup

Tennessee is fresh off a loss on Tuesday night. They are traveling to a hostile Rupp Arena. What must they do to win the top 10 matchup against Kentucky

Jan 30, 2024; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Josiah-Jordan James (30) brings
Jan 30, 2024; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Josiah-Jordan James (30) brings / Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
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Slow the Game Down

When you play Kentucky be prepared to run a track meet. The Wildcats play at one of the fastest paces in the country and love to get up and down the floor to try and outscore you. They enter the game leading the SEC in scoring and are near the top in the country in pace of play. They want you to play fast and to try and outscore them.  Very few teams in the league and country can hang with the Wildcats offensively and keep up with their pace. Tennessee is not one of those teams that is going to be able to keep up with them. If this game gets into a track meet and Tennessee tries to run with Kentucky it could get ugly.

It is true that Tennessee has been playing much faster this year on the offensive end of the ball but they are still one of the best defenses in the country and force teams to play at a snail’s pace when they are on defense. Efficiency and rebounding are even more important because it is much easier to set up your defense when you make shots. It doesn’t allow Kentucky to get out in transition after a rebound and long pass like they do so well. Rebounding is important to hold Kentucky to one and done. Nothing puts pressure on a great defense more than offensive rebounds and put backs or kick out to a trailing shooter.

Coach Barnes always has his teams play fundamentally sound defense. If you want to play for Tennessee and get minutes you are going to have to defend and defend well. Tennessee enters the game as number 2 in defensive efficiency. That is according to KenPom and if you dive into the numbers the Volunteers defense allows under 40% shooting from the floor, contest every three, and grab a ton of steals. They are very hard to score on in the half-court and they force you to play sound on the offensive end or they will end the possession with a turnover.

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If Tennessee doesn’t make shots or rebound this game can get out of hand. If they allow Kentucky to dominate the glass and get in out in transition this game can get out of hand. It is all going to be about slowing the game down. Kentucky wants to play fast and Tennessee needs the game to be slower to be effective.