Tennessee Scouting Report
This Saturday, Kentucky will have the dual opportunity to pick up their first ranked victory of the season, while also sending our southern border rivals home with an L. The Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers are set to tip off in Rupp Arena at 1:00 ET, a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN.
Tennessee has won 4 of their last 6 matchups against the Cats, including each of their last 2 trips to Lexington. Kentucky leads the all time series 156-76, and are 15-10 since Calipari became the head coach. However, Kentucky hasn't won a season series over Tennessee since 2015, either splitting 1-1 or losing 1-2 in each of the past 6 seasons. It is time Kentucky regains dominance in this rivalry once again.
Tennessee has earned a #22 ranking by picking up a trio of quality wins over #6 Arizona at home, Colorado on the road, and North Carolina in a neutral site. They have, however, dropped 2 of their first 4 SEC matchups to LSU and Alabama. Neither of these are bad losses, but it shows they have been unable to beat quality conference opponents on the road to this point.
As a team, we can expect Tennessee to play with lots of pace and space. They take the 3rd most field goal attempts per game in the SEC (Kentucky is 1st), so a fast paced and high scoring game can very well be in order. They also attempt the 2nd most three pointers per game, only trailing Alabama. They will often run a true "4 out" offense with 4 guards, all willing three point shooters, surrounding 5th year big man, John Fulkerson.
Fulkerson is a name very familiar with the Big Blue Nation because it feels like he has been around forever. He has given Kentucky lots of problems before, including a 27 point performance to lead Tennessee to a comeback win inside Rupp Arena in 2020.
Isaiah Jackson changed this trend by holding him to a combined 4 points on 1/10 shooting over their 2 matchups last year. He did so by physically dominating him with his strength, athleticism, and high motor. Oscar Tshiebwe can continue this dominance over Fulkerson as he has all of those attributes himself. Winning the battle down low is the first key to victory on Saturday.
Another interesting head-to-head matchup could be a battle of two of the best freshman point guards in college basketball, TyTy Washington and Kennedy Chandler. Chandler was the top ranked point guard in their class according to 247Sports, with TyTy coming in 4th.
Chandler, the lead ball handler for Tennessee, is an attack first point guard with very shifty ball handling and good court vision as well. He will attempt a few threes a game, but will primarily attack the basket to get to his floater, kick out to open shooters, or dish a pass off to a cutting teammate. He is third in the SEC in assists per game (5.1), putting him behind first place Sahvir Wheeler (7.3) and barely ahead of TyTy Washington (4.8).
We will likely not see too much of Chandler and TyTy going head-to-head in the game, as a source has told the Cats Coverage team that Sahvir Wheeler is likely to return from his neck injury on Saturday. This likely means that Wheeler will primarily match up with Chandler at the point. However, how each guard plays will heavily determine the outcome of this game, and potentially each of their draft stocks as well.
Chandler, along with teammate Santiago Vescovi, are both in the top 5 of the SEC in steals per game, combining to average 4.4 per contest. Tennessee ranks 3rd in the SEC as a team in steals per game, and are much more effective in transition than running their offense in the half court. Kentucky has done a great job this season taking care of the ball, only giving up the second fewest turnovers in the SEC. The second key to this game is continuing that trend by winning the turnover battle and not letting Tennessee run their fast break.
In the half court setting, Tennessee relies heavily on the 3 point shot, ranking second in the SEC in 3 point attempts per game, only behind Alabama. However, they are middle of the pack when it comes to converting them on in terms of shooting percentage. It seems like teams always have their best three point shooting performances ever against Kentucky. But we would still much rather have them jack up 3's than get layups and dunks in transition.
The final key of the game is to play a full 40 minutes. No 10+ minute second half scoring droughts. No 0-16 runs like we saw against Vanderbilt. Kentucky needs 40 minutes of battling in the paint, taking care of the ball, and creating AND making open shots.
Kentucky is a better team than Tennessee and has the home court advantage. If they play how they are capable of playing for 40 minutes without any huge lapses, they should come out on top by 10+ points and earn their first ranked victory of the season.
I predict Kentucky will win 82-71 with another dominant game from Oscar Tshiebwe and some key buckets by Kellan Grady down the stretch.