Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
The SEC got off to a slow start this year, but thanks to the efforts of Arkansas, the conference is clawing its way back into the national picture. As for right now, the conference does not have a ranked team in the Coaches Poll. Tennessee (10-4, 1-0) is one of the teams that will most likely build itself up after a disappointing first half of the season. The Volunteers have played a difficult schedule, and their wins include Georgetown and Marquette, but a loss to Temple doesn’t look great, and they have struggled with mediocre opponents. Kentucky (12-4, 1-0) is also a team that could surprise some people. After an 0-2 start, including a loss to VMI, Kentucky is slowly turning things around. They began as a team in disarray, turning the ball over more than 20 times a game. That number is still high, at 18, but any improvement is good.
Tennessee has one of the biggest advantages in sports, the home court advantage. However, after watching a 15 point second half lead slip away from them at home against Gonzaga, the Volunteers won’t ease up. Leading the team is do-it-all forward Tyler Smith. He is a champion of versatility, a maestro in the lane with three-ball capabilities, although that shot has abandoned him this year. On a team of athletes, Smith may stand alone as the best. Cameron Tatum has knocked down some crucial shots this season. He seems to step up when his team needs him most. He, Scotty Hopson and Renaldo Woolridge form a nucleus of freshman talent. Emmanuel Negedu also gets some playing time, though his best scoring output on the year was 5. The quiet assassin is JP Prince; he, like his cousin Tayshaun, is a great team player, and his role on the team as the unheralded workhorse suits him. Point guard Bobby Maze has also been clutch, in the win over Georgetown, he didn’t miss from the field (dumping in 14), dished out 9 assists and did not turn the ball over. However, his inconsistency was apparent in the second Gonzaga game, when Maze could not buy a bucket, going 1-9 on the night. If the Georgetown Maze shows up, Tennessee is a well-oiled offensive machine, coiled and ready to attack. Resident big men Wayne Chism and Brian Williams are tough to move around in the low post, both more than 240 pounds. Williams in particular is a nightmare on the offensive glass, over 35% of his rebounds are on the offensive end.
The ‘Cats opening loss to VMI, followed with a drubbing at the hands of UNC had members of the college basketball community thinking it would be another long season for UK fans. That may not be the case, as they have gone 12-2 since that point. Jodie Meeks has emerged as one of the nation’s best scorers. He isn’t the most complete guy you will find, but he can score in huge quantities. Miami contained him with 10 points in a terrible outing, other than that he has been spectacular, reminiscent of a shorter Danny Granger. Patrick Patterson is a beast down low. He was heavily criticized for not shooting in the VMI game. Since that point, he has posted only one game under 10 points, 9 in a schooling of Delaware State. He terrorized Louisville. After Meeks and Patterson, a solid corps of role players begins, lead by Kentucky’s response to JP Prince, Perry Stevenson. Stevenson is by no means the model of consistency that is Prince, but he uses his length to swat a ton of shots. Kentucky’s lone true champion of defense, Ramon Harris is back at full strength after an injury sustained following a collision with teammate Michael Porter. Porter and DeAndre Liggins are the team’s two point guards. Liggins is the starter, but Porter earns solid minutes off the bench. The one concern for Kentucky in this game is guard play. Meeks is outstanding, but he, along with Harris, Porter and Liggins, are all turnover hazards. Tennessee has a quick team with the ability to exploit that weakness. If this comes down to a game of free throws, the Wildcats have the upper hand, as they are a full 10% better than the Vols.
Tennessee is too good a team to drop another home game. The turnovers for Kentucky are improving, but take a drastic turn when the Wildcats face a quality opponent. Tennessee qualifies as quality, and they will win the turnover battle, and the game.
Prediction: Tennessee Margin: 8-12 points
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.