Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM
Tennessee at Kentucky
Tennessee will put its No. 1 ranking and school-record 19-game winning streak on the line Saturday night when it invades Rupp Arena to face Kentucky. The Volunteers haven’t tasted defeat since suffering its lone loss of the season in overtime against Kansas on Nov. 23 at Barclays Arena in Brooklyn.
Kentucky (20-4 straight up, 14-10 against the spread) is a 3.5-point favorite late Friday afternoon, only to quickly adjust the number to three. The total was 146 points.
Tennessee (23-1 SU, 13-9-1 ATS) is ranked No. 1 in the national polls but is just fifth at KenPom.com and fourth in the NCAA’s new NET rankings. UT has five wins over K-Pom Top-50 opponents, including neutral-court victories over Gonzaga and Louisville. The Vols have 13 wins over K-Pom Top-100 foes.
Rick Barnes’s squad is off an 85-73 win over South Carolina as a 15.5-point home favorite Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Senior forward Admiral Schofield was the catalyst with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Jordan Bowden added 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, while Kyle Alexander, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone chipped in 10 points apiece. Bone had six assists and five rebounds, and Grant Williams contributed eight points, nine boards, three blocked shots, one steal and seven assists compared to merely one turnover.
UT is unbeaten in six road assignments with a 5-1 spread record. The Vols have been underdogs only twice, beating Gonzaga as 3.5-point ‘dogs and losing to KU in OT by an 87-81 count as three-point puppies.
Tennessee is ranked second in the nation in field-goal percentage (51.5%), seventh in scoring with its 85.4 points-per-game average and 12th in free-throw percentage (76.7%). The Vols are ranked 13th nationally in FG-percentage defense, forcing foes to make only 39.1 percent of their FGAs.
Barnes has the nation’s most consistent team to date. There are no five-star recruits or prima donnas on the roster. Tennessee is balanced, physical at all five positions, plays unselfishly and makes the extra pass and gets after your ass on the defensive end.
Williams is a first-team All-American candidate and might win SEC Player of the Year honors. The junior from Charlotte is averaging 19.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 blocked shots and 1.2 steals per game. In his team’s 88-83 overtime win at Vanderbilt on Jan. 23, Williams produced 43 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
Schofield (16.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG) is a versatile defender who has range on his jumper, as he’s burying 40.5 percent of his treys. Bone (13.2 PPG) has a 157/49 assist-to-turnover ratio and drains 82.5 percent of his FTAs. Turner averages 11.7 points, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game and is an 82.5 percent FT shooter. Alexander (8.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG) has a team-best 46 blocked shots.
Kentucky had its 10-game winning streak and a stretch of eight straight spread covers ended in Tuesday’s 73-71 loss to LSU on a buzzer-beating tip-in that most at Rupp felt was offensive goaltending. The Tigers went into Lexington and won outright as nine-point road underdogs, cashing money-line tickets in the +350 neighborhood.
P.J. Washington was limited to 27 minutes of playing time due to foul trouble. Nevertheless, he finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Keldon Johnson had 16 points, five boards and three assists without a turnover. He hit a pair of clutch FTs to tie the game with 5.7 seconds remaining. Tyler Herro added 12 points and four assists in the losing effort.
John Calipari’s team is now 13-1 SU and 7-7 ATS at home. As single-digit home favorites, the Wildcats have compiled a 2-1 record both SU and ATS.
UK got crushed 118-84 in its season opener against Duke in Indianapolis. However, the ‘Cats bounced back to win seven games in a row by double-digit margins before dropping an 84-83 decision to Seton Hall in overtime at MSG in NYC. They responded with three straight impressive wins vs. Utah (88-61), vs. North Carolina (80-72 on a neutral floor) and at Louisville (71-58).
Next, UK lost its SEC opener 77-75 at Alabama before ripping off 10 consecutive wins preceding the loss to LSU. The ‘Cats are ranked sixth in the NET metrics and seventh at K-Pom. They are 7-3 against K-Pom Top-50 opponents and 10-4 against Top-100 foes. UK’s best wins are at Louisville, vs. UNC, vs. Kansas, at Auburn, at Florida and over Mississippi State (twice) Washington is UK’s leading scorer (14.4 PPG), rebounder (8.1 RPG) and best 3-point shooter (43.1%). The freshman forward is second on the team in blocked shots (26). Johnson is averaging 14.1 points and 5.3 RPG while draining 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers. Herro (13.3 PPG) paces the ‘Cats in FT percentage (91.8%), while Reid Travis, a grad transfer from Stanford, is averaging 11.6 points and 7.0 RPG. Freshman point guard Ashton Hagans (7.2 PPG) leads UK in assists (4.3 APG) and steals (2.0 SPG).
Tennessee swept a pair of regular-season meetings last year before UK avenged those defeats with a 77-72 win as a two-point underdog in the finals of the SEC Tournament. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the ‘Cats with 29 points. Meanwhile, Schofield had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort. Williams added 15 points, nine boards, three assists and three steals.
When these long-time adversaries squared off in Knoxville on Jan. 6, UT captured a 76-65 victory as a four-point home ‘chalk.’ The 141 combined points dropped ‘under’ the 148-point total. UK led 37-29 at intermission before the Vols outscored it 47-28 in the final 20 minutes.
Schofield led the winners with 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists, four steals and one blocked shot. Williams finished with 18 points, eight boards, four assists, one steal and one block, while Turner had 11 points, four rebounds and five assists compared to just one turnover. Washington had 13 points, three steals, three rebounds and two blocked shots in 23 minutes of action. He made 6-of-8 FGAs.
In the rematch at Rupp on Feb. 6, Tennessee won a 61-59 decision as a two-point road underdog. Turner buried 4-of-7 attempts from long distance and scored a game-high 16 points. Schofield added 12 points and six boards.
The ‘over’ is 13-10 overall for the Vols, 6-0 in its road contests.
The ‘under’ has cashed in four consecutive UK games to improve to 15-9 overall and 10-4 in its home outings.
The ‘under’ is 4-1-1 in the past six head-to-head meetings between UK and UT. Going back further, the ‘under’ is 15-5-2 in the past 22 games in this rivalry.
Tip-off is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on ESPN.
B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets
-- Tennessee is 17-5 ATS in its last 22 road games.
-- Louisville will take on Clemson at noon Eastern on ESPN. U of L is in bounce-back mode after allowing a 23-point lead to get away in the second half of Tuesday’s 71-69 loss to Duke. The Cardinals covered the number as 8.5-point home underdogs. As of late Friday afternoon, most books had U of L installed as a 6.5-point home favorite. The Cards are 12-3 SU and 7-6 ATS at home, while the Tigers are 2-5 SU and 3-4 ATS on the road.
-- Florida snapped its three-game losing streak in Wednesday’s 66-57 win over Vanderbilt as a 10-point home favorite. The Gators failed to cover the number for the seventh straight game. According to Joe Lunardi’s latest ‘Bracketology’ report filed Friday morning at ESPN.com, UF is the first team out of the NCAA Tournament field and Alabama is listed as a No. 10 seed. Therefore, the stakes are extremely high for Saturday’s showdown between these SEC rivals at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama opened as a three-point home favorite with a total of 133.5. The ‘under’ has cashed in four straight games for UF and is 6-1 in its seven road assignments. The Gators have won seven in a row over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. ESPNU will provide the telecast at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.
-- Arkansas, a part of Lunardi’s Next Four Out, will host Mississippi State at Bud Walton Arena on the SEC Network at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. The Bulldogs bounced back from consecutive home losses to LSU and Kentucky to beat Alabama 81-62 Tuesday as 5.5-point favorites. MSU backcourt mates Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters combined to score 42 points. Ben Howland’s club is 3-3 both SU and ATS in six road assignments, while the Razorbacks are 10-4 SU and 6-8 ATS at home.
-- Baylor guard King McClure is ‘questionable’ at Texas Tech due to a knee injury that’s kept him out of the past two games. McClure averages 9.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 APG. The Bears avoided a three-game losing streak with Monday’s 59-53 win over Oklahoma as six-point home ‘chalk.’ Makai Mason returned to the lineup but scored only six points while making just 2-of-14 FGAs. However, he dished out eight assists. The Bears, who are 6.5-point underdogs for their trip to Lubbock, are 4-3 SU and 5-2 ATS on the road. The Red Raiders are 13-1 SU and 5-8 ATS at home.
-- After winning at Rupp on Tuesday night, LSU falls into a classic letdown spot at Georgia. The Tigers were 8.5-point road favorites early Friday evening. They’re 6-1 both SU and ATS in seven road games, while UGA is 8-5 both SU and ATS in 13 home contests. This is a 6:00 p.m. Eastern tip on the SEC Network.
-- Nebraska ended its seven-game losing streak in Tuesday’s 62-61 win over Minnesota. However, the Cornhuskers failed to cover the number for the eighth straight time. James Palmer Jr. hit a pair of game-winning FTs with 1.1 seconds remaining. Tim Miles’s team was favored by 5.5 points for its Big Ten showdown with Northwestern. This is an 8:30 p.m. Eastern tip on BTN.
-- South Carolina Upstate forward Malik Moore is going to miss the next 3-4 weeks with a hand injury. Moore is averaging 16.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.