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College Basketball: Tennessee looks to get back on track against No. 17 Kentucky

Big one for the Vols.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

All of the sudden, things aren’t going so hot for the Tennessee Volunteers. Losers of two straight, this team is facing some real adversity for the first time all season. This down spot isn’t all that surprising to Rick Barnes, though.

“We’re a predominantly young basketball team,” Barnes said. “I’m not surprised with the inconsistencies and the ups and downs.”

Barnes was asked what Tennessee had to do specifically on defense to get back to playing at the level they were previously. “Effort and intensity,” Barnes said. “Everyone doing their job and not taking anything for granted. We need everybody, it’s not just one or two guys.”

There will be no rest for any team in the SEC this year as they league seems loaded with quality teams from the top to the bottom. That has created a big time schedule, which is problematic for the suddenly struggling Vols. Tennessee will welcome in the No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night as they try to get their first conference win.

“They’re talented,” Barnes said of Kentucky. “They’re long — they’re a little different from last year, but they’re as capable as any team in the country at beating anybody. I watched a little bit of their game at LSU. That was a great crowd and they figured out a way to get it done at the end. It just comes down to competing and making plays.”

The Wildcats enter this game 12-2 and 2-0 in SEC play after sneaking past Georgia and LSU. Their two losses this season have come to Kansas and UCLA. They haven’t played a typical Kentucky non-conference schedule, though. Their best win looks to be over an unranked Louisville team currently.

Untested or not, you can still always count on Kentucky being loaded with young talent. So far this season, it’s been freshman small forward Kevin Knox leading the way, averaging 14 and 6 for the Wildcats this year. The former five star recruit is 6-9 and will undoubtedly give Tennessee matchup problems all night long.

Hamidou Diallo checks in just behind Knox in scoring, also averaging 14 points per game. Kentucky gets most of their points from these two, but guards Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander follow close behind. Kentucky is deep, as they usually are.

Gilgeous-Alexander was described as Kentucky’s best player this week by A Sea of Blue, despite not being the highest ranked recruit in their class.

Tennessee has won the past two contests against Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena, giving the us the two greatest moments of the Rick Barnes era to this point. Going three for three here would be big for this team, stopping the bleeding and getting another quality win in the process.

*** One quick note: Barnes noted that Jordan Bone was diagnosed with the flu after the Auburn game. We’ll see about his status on Saturday. ***

Gameday Information

  • TV: SEC Network
  • Tip-off: 9 PM Eastern
  • Radio: Vol Network
  • Streaming: Watch ESPN
  • Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Odds: None posted