Even though it’s going to take a miracle for Tennessee to get into the NCAA Tournament, there’s still reason to be excited for the last two games of the season.
First up to bat is the Kentucky Wildcats. John Calipari’s squad is currently 24-5 and firing on all cylinders. It’s going to be tough sledding for Tennessee in Lexington, that’s for sure.
But the Vols showed some grit in the win over Florida. Will that carry over into Tuesday’s night’s contest?
The usual late-season surge for Kentucky has arrived
“I think Kentucky is the most underrated, under appreciated team in the country right now,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “I think them, along with Kansas, are the two best teams in the country. They haven’t lost since they lost at Auburn.”
Yep, it’s the that time of the year. The time of the year where Kentucky’s youth finally coagulates and begins to reach the full potential that lingers around the team all year long.
The Cats are 8-0 and have beaten Florida, LSU, and Auburn during that span. They recently beat Auburn on February 29 to clinch the SEC regular season-title and will likely receive a top-3 seed in the tournament.
So, it’s business as usual.
A stout Kentucky roster
Three Wildcats are in the top-13 of the SEC when it comes to points per game. The only other team to boast that same statistic is the Florida Gators. Ashton Hagans leads the SEC in assists per game. Nick Richards’ name is close to the top of three different statistical categories.
“Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards, are two guys you have to look at as player of the year type candidates. There are a lot of terrific coaches in our league. No one has done a better job than John Calipari. So with that said, they’re playing terrific defense, they get out in transition. They’re as lethal as any team you’ll play against. If not, they’re going to get into their sets and they’re going to execute.”
Kentucky runs an efficient offense, so it’s a good thing Tennessee can play consistent defense, but it’s not going to be a surprise if there are struggles on Tuesday night.
Can the Vols sneak into the tournament?
Let’s be real. The chances of Tennessee making the NCAA Tournament are extremely slim, however, a win over the Wildcats could severely increase those chances.
It won’t be easy at all, but that’s the bed Tennessee has made. A three-game win streak over Florida, Kentucky, and Auburn would go a long way toward helping the Vols make it into the postseason.
Tennessee does have history on its side. Kentucky hasn’t swept the Vols in a single season since 2012. Hopefully that doesn’t change anytime soon.
But the Vols have to win tonight or else it’s game over for the Big Orange.
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