I know the last few weeks there has been a lot of discussion about the difficulty of our last 8 games in conference play. After looking over the schedule extensively, I definitely think it is as tough as advertised. I think our 6-2 start in conference play was almost a must, considering how back loaded the schedule is. Personally, 10-6 was my goal for this team going into conference play after the Jan. 1st incident. That would mean going 4-4 down the stretch. I have below a game by game detail of how are schedule stacks up, with predictions included.
Feb 9th- @Vanderbilt (17-5, 6-2 SEC)- Since their 5-0 start, Vandy has dropped 2 of their last 3. Still, this is going to be a very tough one for the Vols to win. Jermaine Beal is playing as well as anyone in the SEC right now and they are a very athletic team that has a good front line in A.J. Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli , a 3 point specialist in John Jenkins, and athletic guards in Jeff Taylor, Brad Tinsley, and Beal. They beat Tennessee 85-76 in Knoxville two weeks ago, and are always tough to beat in Memorial Gym.
Prediction- Loss, This is one Tennessee could win, but I just don't see it. Vanderbilt is very tough to beat at home, they have not lost there this year, and Bruce's two best teams lost there in 07 and 08. I expect an L here.
Feb. 13th @Kentucky (22-1 7-1 SEC)- Right now UK looks to be the clear class of the SEC. Patrick Patterson, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe could all be 1st rounders in the upcoming NBA draft. They have Non-Conference wins over UNC, UConn, Louisville, and Indiana. The only blemish on their record is a loss to South Carolina when Devan Downey could not be stopped.
Prediction- Loss, This is the only game on the schedule that I would be shocked if we won. UK will be awfully tough to beat, especially in Rupp. Throw in College Gameday will be there, and Rupp Arena will be rocking.
Feb. 17th vs Georgia (10-11 2-6 in SEC)- Georgia handed us our first SEC loss this season in an emphatic way. The Dawgs beat us down 77-62 in Stageman Coliseum. The Dawgs have an athletic front line led by Trey Thompkins, and Travis Leslie is a scoring machine. Though they just have 2 SEC victories, they are a very dangerous team, who has multiple near upsets.
Prediction- Win, Georgia caught us napping the 1st time, but it should not happen again. Georgia is very dangerous, but playing in TBA we should win. This game is almost a must win, since it is at home.
Feb 20th @ South Carolina (13-9 4-4 SEC)- The Gamecocks are the only team in the country that has beaten UK, and are very dangerous at home. Devan Downey should be the SEC POY, and is almost impossible to stop. The Vols handled USC easily in Knoxville, but it won't be that easy in Columbia. The Colonial Center crowd can be very loud, and when Downey gets going watch out.
Prediction- Win, It will be a tough game, but I think the Vols should pull it out. The Vols forced Downey into a bad shooting night the first time out, and if they do it again we should have a very good of winning.
Feb 23rd @ Florida (17-6 6-3 SEC)- Florida has been playing very well of late since their 0-2 SEC start. Tennessee handed them their only loss in this stretch, on Scotty Hopson's late jump shot. Bruce Pearl has had Florida's number going 8-1 against them, but I expect this one to be very challenging. Florida could very well be on the bubble when this game is played making it very important for them.
Prediction- Loss, Tennessee has played well in the O-Dome, winning 4 of 5, but I expect a loss here. UT pulled out a win at home, and I expect the Gators to do the same on their home floor.
Feb 27th vs Kentucky (22-1 7-1 SEC)- For UK preview read first game entry.
Prediction- Win, This is my most gutsy pick, but I think we can win. This game will be at the back end of a very tough stretch for UK where they play home vs. Tenn, at MSU, at Vandy, home vs. S.Car, and then at Tenn. TBA should be rocking just like Kansas, and I think the seniors will not want to lose their last 4 to the Wildcats. guard play will be key for UT.
Mar. 3rd vs Arkansas (12-11 5-3 SEC)- Arkansas is surprising everyone as they currently are in 1st place in the SEC West. Courtney Fortson is really good, and we could not defend him last year. Who knows if Arkansas will still be in first when we play them, but it will be a challenge none the less.
Prediction- Win, I don't see us losing on Senior Night, especially with Arkansas playing better of late, so we should not be overlooking them. This could be very high scoring, but this game like Georgia is a game we need to win at home.
Mar 6th @ Mississippi State (16-7 4-4 SEC)- This has classic bubble game written all over it. MSU could be desperately needing a marquee win, and we might give them that opportunity. Everyone knows about Varnado down low, but Dee Bost and Barry Stuart are both very good guards. The Hump could be rocking, but we have played well down there of late, winning the last 2 in Starkville.
Prediction- Loss I am thinking this game will mean a lot more to MSU then it will to us. I'm not ruling out a win here, but it will be tough. I think their perimeter shooting wins it in a tight affair.
My final prediction has us at 10-6 in the league. I think that would be a big accomplishment for this team. Anyone else have any thoughts or predictions?