Eyeballs: SECN or fake delayed SECN
Statsballs: your stats or something like them
When we last played Kentucky, this happened. (Click through for 250 comments on why Lisa Mattingly is your worst nightmare.) It's been a while. Kentucky is basically playing the same high-pressure, what's-the-half-court-offense strategy they've been playing for years under Matthew Mitchell1.
Kentucky's schedule is pretty backloaded; they come in at 5-2 in-conference, but the wins (at Alabama, at Missouri, home vs. Ole Miss, Auburn, and Florida) are lackluster. Of their last nine games, six are against ranked teams. They do have a win over Louisville in the non-conference, but that's balanced against losses to Duke and Illinois(!).
How will Tennessee keep Kentucky in line?
1. Stay efficient. Kentucky's game plan on offense is basically accumulate as many possession as humanly possible, throw it at the hoop, and hope for the best. This includes getting to the line, although ironically enough, their two best performances from the line were both losses. In related news, Kentucky gets into trouble if their eFG% gets under 40% (think of that as FG%, but with three-pointers weighted more) or points per weighted shot dips below 0.95. Neither of those marks are particularly good.
2. Stay inefficient. Kentucky will probably average less than 1 point per possession, but their possessions are high enough to counteract that. If Tennessee can either drive down eFG% (through defense) or possessions (through turnovers and defensive boards), that will cause Kentucky problems.
3. Get more than 0.87 points per possession. Kentucky is 2-4 when their opponents break that efficiency metric.Tennessee's finished below 0.87 points per possession three times (Georgia, Texas, Rutgers), so this isn't a high bar to clear. That being said, we need to talk about turnover rate. Kentucky will force more turnovers than Tennessee, but if Tennessee can keep their net possessions lost on turnovers within ...oh, 5 or so, that should be fine. If Kentucky's getting a free extra 10 possessions, Tennessee will be in trouble.
4. Stay quick. Kentucky is not a big team-Alexis Jennings and Azia Bishop are the only posts who get any sort of minutes, and neither of them score-but they are fast and they are disruptive. Guard play will go a long way, as will length. This will probably not be Cierra Burdick's game offensively, but she's a smart enough player defensively it may be okay.
Ultimately, the plan is basically the same as every other plan the last couple of months. At stake: keeping pace with South Carolina at the top of the SEC. A loss at this point has minimal impact on their seeding-by the way, Chattanooga's showing up at the bottom of the polls now-and Kentucky's probably sitting in the 3/4 seed range. A loss won't really change that either. It's a big game, but it's not a big game if that makes sense.
Both teams could certainly use the resume booster, but Tennessee isn't breaking through to the 1 seed line unless someone above them loses (plus they likely need to beat South Carolina anyway). Kentucky's schedule matters way more in concert than this single game. A loss for Tennessee isn't the end of the world, but it does in all likelihood stick them in the 2/3 range. More importantly, it brings up the question of if they can win a road or neutral site game against a top opponent, which you better believe is going to be a problem come Sweet 16 time.
PREDICTION: 71-67 Tennessee; Hooper goes with 74-62 Tennessee (I think; he didn't specify. Feel free to blast him in the comments). I think this will be a squeaker; Kentucky should be able to use their home crowd to their advantage.
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 8 minutes.
1 - okay, really, we need to talk about your hair, Matthew. What on earth are you doing? You know you're going bald, right? When you part your hair con gusto like you've decided to do it just looks like a river of scalp draining to your bald spot. When you shower in the morning, do you have to tap your hair gel twice for your hair to part, or do you have enough faith in your part that you only need to tap it once?↩