No. 10 Tennessee Vols at Kentucky Wildcats
Line: Tennessee -2
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
When: Saturday, 2/18 at 1:00 p.m. ET
No. 10 Tennessee got the buzzer-beater monkey off its back on Wednesday night, but now it will need to get even with Kentucky after losing to the Wildcats at home last month.
The Vols came up short as 11-point home favorites in that meeting before responding with five wins in their next six games. Their momentum came to a screeching halt with consecutive buzzer-beating losses to Vanderbilt and Missouri last week, but they were able to right the ship with a 68-59 win over No. 1 Alabama on Wednesday.
Their next task will be traveling to Rupp Arena, where Kentucky returns following a 71-68 win at Mississippi State. The Wildcats had lost consecutive games to Arkansas and Georgia before beating Mississippi State as 3-point underdogs.
Offshore sportsbook BetOnline opened Tennessee as a 2.5-point favorite on Friday afternoon, while the total opened at 135.5. By 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Friday, most spots had moved UT to -1.5 or -2.
The Vols have gone ‘under’ in four of their last five games, but Kentucky has gone ‘over’ in nine straight home games and six consecutive games overall.
The Wildcats’ upset win in Knoxville last month sparked a stretch of four straight wins and six out of seven that moved them to 7-3 in conference play. They will be hoping to begin a new winning stretch after beating Mississippi State on Wednesday, powered by 18 points and 11 rebounds from big man Oscar Tshiebwe.
“The biggest thing I’ve been talking about to them is ‘refuse to lose,’” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “You may run out of time, but refuse to lose. Just keep fighting.”
They have certainly been fighting on the offensive boards, leading the country in offensive rebounding percentage coming into this game. That has allowed them to make up for a 2-point field goal percentage (49.8) and a free-throw percentage (69.7) that are both outside the top 200.
Tshiebwe leads Kentucky with 15.8 points and 13.3 rebounds per game—he was right on his average with 15 points and 13 boards against Tennessee last month. Antonio Reeves (13.2), Jacob Toppin (11.9) and Cason Wallace (11.6) are each scoring in double figures as well. They are facing a Tennessee defense that is No. 1 in 3-point percentage (24.7), No. 6 in 2-point percentage (43.5) and No. 17 in turnover rate.
The Vols used that defensive effort to lead Alabama for nearly 36 minutes on Wednesday, giving them their sixth win all-time against a top-ranked team. They scored 26 points on 19 forced turnovers, despite playing without Josiah-Jordan James (ankle) and Julian Phillips (hip). Jonas Aidoo stepped up with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi each had 15 points.
James was ruled out hours before the game, but Phillips was considered a game-time decision—their respective statuses for Saturday’s game are both up in the air. Tennessee continues to struggle with consistency on the offensive end, ranked outside the top 200 in 2-point percentage (49.7) and 3-point percentage (32.7). Like Kentucky, the Vols rely heavily on an offensive rebounding rate that is fourth-best in college hoops.
Tennessee is 1-4 against the spread in its last five games, but it is 16-4 straight up in its last 20 conference games. Kentucky has won and covered in seven of its last 10 games and is 9-1 in its last 10 Saturday games at Rupp.
The pick: Tennessee -1.5 (DraftKings)
Tennessee can be frustrating and difficult to gauge at times, but I feel good about the Vols after picking them to cover on Wednesday night. They certainly have the defense necessary to go on the road and win in a tough environment, and they have the motivation needed to get revenge for their surprising loss to Kentucky last month. Calipari’s team has been far too inconsistent this season, and those results have not only been on the road. The Wildcats have lost two of their last three home games by three-plus possessions, and they also lost outright to South Carolina at home last month. It’s never easy taking a team to win at Rupp, but Tennessee should be able to get the job done as small favorites.