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Pearl-Calipari V: The Empire Strikes Back

So, this is the part of the week where I will do all of the following:

  • Completely forget about the Vanderbilt debacle from Tuesday night, burn the film/erase the tivo, and move on
  • Use one of my favorite football coping mechanisms and get more irrational as it gets closer to gameday, and...
  • Remember how I much I hate Kentucky.

Who's comin' with me?

The Perfect Rivalry

Kentucky is in a class of its own in the SEC, both this season and all-time.  There is no program in this conference that can compete with the Cats on any historical level, in tradition or victory.  That said, which program has beaten UK more than any other?  That'd be us.

The nature of the Tennessee-Kentucky rivalry used to be both simple and boring:  we had football, they had basketball.  We still have football.  But we also have Bruce Pearl.  And under Pearl, the Vols have finished higher than Kentucky in the SEC standings in each of his four seasons, which has never been done before by any SEC school.

Pearl is 3-5 against Kentucky - which doesn't look that impressive, but again, everything is relative when we're dealing with these guys - but the newest addition to this rivalry means that past Pearl vs. Kentucky games aren't the best indicator of success or failure in this series...and instead, the Pearl vs. Calipari series takes center stage.

The 2010 Wildcats remind me of the 2008 Tiger High squad that played for the National Championship...after losing to Tennessee.  And from our perspective, Kentucky hired the one guy who could take the UT-UK rivalry and make it even more passionate.  For us, it's hate consolidation.  And for the Vols, there may be cause for hope in examining the previous encounters between Bruce Pearl and Johnny C.

Pearl-Calipari I - Memphis loves Dane Bradshaw

...and when Bradshaw is your leading scorer, you probably didn't win.

In their first meeting, the Vols hung with Memphis for 34 minutes, led at halftime and were down only one with six minutes to play, and then the Tigers pulled away for a 88-79 victory.  Bradshaw played the best statistical game of his career in front of the Memphis home folks, with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists.  But players not named Dane Bradshaw shot 28% from the floor, and the Vols were hammered on the glass by Shawne Williams and Joey Dorsey.  Lesson learned:  next time you come to Memphis, bring better players.

Pearl-Calipari II - Chris Lofton's greatest game

With apologies to his February 2006 Rupp Arena performance (31 points, 7 of 10 from three), his December 2006 game against the Tigers in Knoxville was his most complete basketball game:  12 of 18 from the floor, 6 of 11 from three, and only four points coming from the free throw line...all good for 34 points in a 76-58 beatdown.  Memphis shot 28.6% from the floor, 50.0% at the free throw line, and was outrebounded 50-44.  Don't believe me on Lofton?  Here's each of his 21 points in the first half of that game, the bulk of which come in the Vols' 20-3 run to end the first half:

Pearl-Calipari III - Number 1 vs. Number 2

We discussed this one at the end of our countdown of the best moments of the previous decade, with the rise of Tennessee Basketball taking our top spot.  This game was the apex, with Tennessee going into an incredibly hostile environment against an elite opponent, and walking out alive.  They did it by holding Memphis to 39.7% from the floor, outrebounding them by 15, and watching Tiger High shoot only 47.1% from the free throw line.

Pearl-Calipari IV - An ugly revenge

The Tigers got the best of Tennessee in Knoxville last season, 54-52.  Both teams were atrocious on the offensive end, but this time around, the Tigers outrebounded the Vols 40-38, and hit 11 of 14 free throws while Tennessee shot only 14 of 23.  Tennessee missed a three at the buzzer that would've won it.

Lessons Learned

Are there any trends from the previous Pearl-Calipari games we can learn from here?

As golfballs03 mentioned earlier this week, when Kentucky has "struggled" this season, it has typically been against teams that slowed the pace down and denied UK the ability to get out and run.  Kentucky leads the SEC in every major offensive category:

  • Points Per Game:  81.6
  • Shooting Percentage:  48.8
  • 3-Point Percentage:  37.8

Under Calipari, both Memphis and Kentucky have seen great success with the dribble drive motion offense.  In the last two years at Memphis, the Tigers averaged 79.7 and 74.1 points per game, and shot 46.6% and 44.3% from the floor. 

But against the Vols, the Tigers' percentages and numbers went way down in each of the last three years:

  • '07:  28.6% FG, 17.9% 3PT, 58 points
  • '08:  39.7% FG, 29.6% 3PT, 62 points
  • '09:  33.9% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 54 points

Has Tennessee done specific things to have such defensive success against Calipari's teams?  In '07 and '08, Tennessee definitely wasn't trying to slow the game down.  But that shouldn't be the case on Saturday night.

For Tennessee to entertain victory in Rupp Arena - currently a once-per-decade event - they'll need to keep Kentucky to numbers similar to those above.  It won't be easy - Kentucky has scored under 70 only 4 times in 24 games:  back-to-back in wins over North Carolina and UConn, in their loss to South Carolina, and on Tuesday night against Alabama.  And you might've heard about John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Eric Bledsoe, who are all averaging double figures.

We've seen some really good and really bad defensive performances from UT this season.  The Vols again locked down on Memphis, played strong defense in containing #1 Kansas, and their best SEC wins have come as a result of defense as much as anything.

On the other hand, Vanderbilt has ripped Tennessee twice, and Kentucky is fully capable of attacking Tennessee in similar fashion. 

Aside from defensive field goal percentages, Tennessee is going to have to rebound.  The Cats also lead the SEC in rebounding, which means the Vols are going to need something more from Wayne Chism, Kenny Hall, and Brian Williams.  To handle Cousins and PatPat, Tennessee needs their post men to play with an edge and an attitude on Saturday night.  If the Vols get bullied in the paint, Tennessee has zero chance to win this game.

It's a tall order.  If Tennessee is going to get it done Saturday night, it'll happen with defense, pace, and rebounding:  slow the game down, be a presence in the paint, and make a commitment to great defense.  It'll take a 40 minute commitment on each of those levels and on all of Kentucky's weapons; the Vols will need the very best from the entire roster to give themselves a chance to win.

We hate Calipari, and his marriage to Kentucky's evil empire has a chance to both ignite this rivalry, and send us ducking for cover on Saturday night.

But I believe Tennessee is going to come ready to play, and play well.  Because it's like Bernard King says:

"We don't lose to Kentucky," King told the Vols. "You hear me? We're not losing to Kentucky. I'm going to be there with you, and we're going to get it done."