The Tennessee-Kentucky rivalry is one which has generally been lopsided in favor of the Volunteers on the football field and in favor of the Wildcats on the basketball court.
However, Tennessee and Kentucky have split the last eight meetings on the hardwood dating back to 2013. But all of Tennessee’s wins have come in the hospitable confines of Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee’s last win in Kentucky’s Rupp Arena came in 2006. Before that, it was 1999. And the only other two wins for the Vols came in 1977 and 1979.
That’s it. Those are Tennessee’s only wins in Rupp Arena.
In the 10 games in Lexington since Tennessee’s last win, Kentucky’s average margin of victory is 14.5 points, with only two of the games decided by single-digits.
But this year just feels different.
This season’s meeting in Rupp Arena will be the first one in which Tennessee is ranked higher than Kentucky since 2008. And while the Vols have gone into Rupp with a win already in hand against Kentucky each of the past two seasons, I don’t think anyone would argue Tennessee was better than the Kentucky teams it managed to beat.
This year’s Tennessee squad, however, is objectively better than Kentucky by almost every available metric.
Tennessee is ranked No. 15 in the AP Poll to Kentucky’s No. 24. Tennessee is No. 7 in KenPom, Kentucky No. 30. In KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency rankings, the Volunteers rank No. 22 and No. 6, respectively, with the Wildcats checking in at No. 54 and No. 21.
We already know Tennessee is comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field, so this game isn’t a must-win to have as a résumé builder - but it sure would look nice. And perhaps more importantly to Tennessee fans, it would just be plain fun.
KenPom currently has the game as a virtual toss-up, giving Tennessee a 55% chance to win with a predicted score of 71-70.
Tennessee heads into this matchup hot, having won eight of its last nine and its last three by at least 23 points. Kentucky comes in off a loss to Missouri and games against West Virginia and Vanderbilt in which it trailed by double-digits.
The point is this is a fantastic opportunity for Tennessee to do something which doesn’t happen very often: beat Kentucky on its home floor.