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Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Opponent Preview

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The showdown is upon us...

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Tennessee
The Vols will need Admiral Schofield in a big way come Saturday.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Here. We. Go.

The game that we’ve all been waiting for since SEC play began is finally here. The top-ranked Tennessee Volunteers will travel to Rupp Arena to take on the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night.

Kentucky is currently the fifth-ranked team in the nation and they are certainly no slouch. Even though this team is different from a lot of John Calipari’s former squads, they are still as talented as ever and are beginning to put it all together as the season progresses.

But the Vols have had it together all year long and their play has not dropped off in the slightest. Will they be able to pull off their 20th consecutive win on Saturday?

Conference Record and Standings

  • Southeastern Conference
  • 20-4 (9-2)
  • Lost last game

Impact Players

  • F P.J. Washington: 14.4 PPG, 51.5 FG%, 69.6 FT%, 43.1 3PT%, 8.1 REB, 1.1 BLK, 1.8 TO, 1.8 AST, 28.2 MIN

Washington is an absolute stud and his biggest impact on the game may not even come on offense.

He will be responsible for matching up with Grant Williams, the 2017 SEC Player of the Year, and the Vols best player.

As we mentioned on our podcast after the South Carolina game, there will be matchups galore in this contest. It’s almost guaranteed that Washington vs. Williams will determine the outcome of this game.

  • F Reid Travis: 11.6 PPG, 51.9 FG%, 73.0 FT%, 27.3 3PT%, 7.0 REB, 0.8 BLK, 1.5 TO, 0.9 AST, 28.1 MIN

When the former All-Pac-12 forward announced his decision to transfer to Kentucky, most pundits went ahead and put the Wildcats in the Final Four.

His offensive output has dipped a bit since his arrival, but that’s more because of the talent around him. Reid doesn’t have to carry this team like he did when he played for the Stanford Cardinal.

Despite the offensive decline, Travis’ defense is one of the reasons why John Calipari went after him in the offseason. A versatile forward, Reid and Washington may switch up on Admiral Schofield and Williams - which would be intriguing to watch.

Travis is one of the country’s strongest players and he uses that to his advantage. He is almost impossible to guard one-on-one.

Tennessee will have its hands full with him on Saturday.

  • Ashton Hagans: 7.1 PPG, 45.7 FG%, 74.1 FT%, 19.2 3PT%, 2.4 REB, 0.2 BLK, 1.5 TO, 0.9 AST, 26.4 MIN

While Hagans doesn’t post stellar offensive numbers, he is a tough SOB who can matchup with any guard in the country.

In case you didn’t know, the Vols have a pretty good point guard in Jordan Bone. I am most looking forward to these two going at it.

Bone’s hot play is the main catalyst for Tennessee’s number one ranking, but he hasn’t gone up against anyone like Hagans just yet.

Both are extremely athletic, but Bone has the advantage in terms of experience. Hagans may shut him down offensively, but as long as Bone dishes it out like he has, then Tennessee should have enough playmakers elsewhere to make a difference.

Most Recent

The LSU Tigers halted the Cats’ 10-game win streak with a 73-71 in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. A questionable no-call on the Tigers’ buzzer beater from Kavell Bigby-Williams helped deny Kentucky the win after Keldon Johnson tied the game with six seconds left.

LSU trailed by nine at halftime but outscored Kentucky 41-31 in the second half. It was the Tigers’ first win in Rupp since 2009.

P.J. Washington continued his stellar season, leading the team with 20 points and Johnson chipped in with 16, but the Wildcats shot just 41.9 percent from the floor, including 26.3 percent from three-point range.

Kentucky finished with just nine turnovers, but eight of those were steals and were major momentum shifts for the Tigers. They key to the game was LSU’s free throws. They hit 19 of 22 shots from the charity stripe and that proved to be the difference in the end.

Game Outlook

Get ready for a dogfight.

Both teams head into this matchup with their eyes set on the SEC regular season crown. Even though there is still one more matchup to be had between these two, Saturday’s game will go a long way in determining whether or not the Vols can repeat as SEC champs.

Kentucky is one of the nation’s top teams defending the paint and the Vols are one of the nation’s most efficient offenses in the paint. Something will have to give if one of these teams wants to win.

The three point line may be the key in this game. Tennessee and Kentucky tend to have issues guarding the perimeter, so that may play a big role in what happens on Saturday.

If you’re a betting man or woman, do not take this game. But if you have a gun to your head, go Vols.