Tennessee and Kentucky Go Toe-to-Toe for 38 Minutes
And Volunteers Leave With 8 point Victory

Game Preview:

Kentucky and Tennessee have both completed ½ of their SEC schedules, and tonight will be their first of two meetings this season. The first half of the SEC season, indeed the entire season, has been a tale of two cities. The team from Lexington has struggled to find its heart and soul from the first tip in November through Saturday night's game against a dominant Florida team. UK currently stands at 15-7, 5-3. The team from Knoxville has carved out a 16-3, 7-1 record while playing the 5 th most difficult schedule in the country. Tennessee found their identity early under the leadership of their new coach, and they are a very aggressive, up-tempo team.

It is imperative for Kentucky to defend its home court tonight against Tennessee . UK has already tasted defeat three times on the Rupp floor, twice during SEC play. They have offset the impact of these home losses to a small degree with three road victories, but the remainder of the road schedule will not be as easy as the first 4 road conference games have been. Therefore, UK plays tonight with its proverbial back to a wall, facing a must win situation if the Cats can retain any lingering hope of a winning record within SEC play.

In contrast to Kentucky 's desperate situation, Tennessee enters this game in the SEC East driver's seat. They have defeated Florida , and are tied for the SEC lead with LSU at 7-1. However, Tennessee 's victory over Florida is not the only impressive win on the Volunteer's resume. Tennessee defeated Texas [RPI #8] by 17 points in December. Tennessee 's conference loss was to LSU [RPI #20] in Baton Rouge by 14 points, and their two non-conference losses came at the hands of Oklahoma State [RPI #80] by 16 points and Memphis [RPI #4] by 9 points, both away from Knoxville .

Tonight's match up provides an interesting contrast of pace, scoring, and efficiency. UK has averaged 80 possessions per game, which places them ranked at 252 nd of the 334 D1 teams. UK holds its opponents to only 78 possessions per game due to a +2 average offensive rebounding margin per game. Tennessee averages 86 possessions per game this season, which ranks 14 th . However, Tennessee does not have a statistical advantage on the offensive boards, allowing its opponents the same 86 possessions per game. These teams should play tonight's game in the lower 80s pace.

Tennessee currently boasts a Net Game Efficiency for the year of 0.122 ppp while UK 's current NGE stands at an anemic 0.040 ppp. Tennessee has played a stronger schedule than UK to this point of the season [0.5881 v 0.6049].

The Pros in Vegas say UK will turn the Volunteers away tonight with their 4 th loss of this season, the victim of an 2-point loss, 77-75. The Net Game Efficiency analysis, adjusted for schedule strength and venue suggests a UK loss to Tennessee , 72-73.

Kentucky 's season high five game winning streak ended on Saturday night, and if UK is going to salvage a trip to the NCAA tournament in March from this season, it must begin a new 5-game streak tonight. To avoid a loss at the hands of the Volunteers, UK must perform very well on offense [at least 0.90 ppp] and the defense must slow down the Tennessee offensive efficiency from is customary range of 0.90 to 1.03 ppp to less than 0.87 ppp.

The First Half:

Kentucky and Tennessee exchanged testing jabs during the first two minutes, and then UK asserted itself, and moved to a 9-4 lead at the end of the first game segment. Tennessee used most of the second segment to gain some stability from UK 's early blows, and then methodically began to eliminate the 5 point early lead, and move out to its own 4 point lead, 25-21 at the end of the third game segment. Out of the timeout, Morris missed two free throws, Tennessee scored on a second chance possession, and Sparks misses a 3 as soon as he reached offensive court. UT converted 1 of 2 free throws and following another UK turnover, hit a 3 to take an early 10 point lead, 31-21. At the end of the 4 th segment of the game, Tennessee maintained possession and a 7 point lead, 35-29. Kentucky made a small run in the final segment close that once 10 point lead to 2 points at the half, 39-36. The first half has been played at a pace of about 78 to 82 possessions, and UT has scored at a rate of 1.026 points per possession, while UK has only scored 0.878 ppp

Kentucky won 2 of the 5 game segments and Tennessee won the other three segments. UK scored its 36 points on only 41 possessions [0.878 ppp] and Tennessee scored its 39 points on 38 possessions, 1.026 points per possession for the half.

Of UK's 42 first half possessions, 6 came by virtue of its offensive rebounding that produced 4 second chance points. Tennessee earned 3 bonus possessions created by its offensive rebounding that produced 4-second chance points. UK had a fair offensive efficiency on its first chance possessions, of 0.889 ppp on its 35 first chance possessions and a weak 0.667 ppp for its 6-second chance possessions. Tennessee had a 1.000 ppp on its 35 first chance possessions and 1.333 ppp on its 3-second chance possessions.

Tennessee made 2 of its 4 free throw attempts [50.0%] while UK converted only 3 of its 8 attempts from the line [37.5%]. Kentucky out rebounded Tennessee in the first half, 17-13, and Kentucky won the battle of the offensive boards, 6-3. The field goal shooting was solid for UK today, and Tennessee shot the ball very well also. From inside the arc, Tennessee shot a solid 53.3% [8-15] and an outstanding 7-14 from beyond the arc [50.0%]. Kentucky was 12-24 [50.0%] inside the arc and a strong 3-5 [60.0%] from outside the arc. The game pace is equivalent to 82 possessions for UK and 78 possessions for Tennessee .


Today: the first team to score its 77 th point will win this game. UK needs to score 41 more points in the second half to reach this level before Tennessee can score 38 points in this race to 77 points. Neither team scored a 77 th point during the game due to a less efficient second half for both teams.

The Second Half:

Tennessee opened play in the second half-scoring 4 points on its first 3 possessions, while UK drew blanks, forcing Tubby Smith to take a time out with 18:20 minutes remaining in the game. This is the second game in a row in which the opponent started the second half, forcing such an early Kentucky time out, with the Cats down 43-36. Out of the timeout, UK scored following a flurry that included 3 offensive rebounds, and re-engaged Tennessee for a battle that should last for the remainder of the game. At the under 16 TV time out, Tennessee retained its halftime margin of 3, 46-43. During the second game segment of the second half, UT eased up by 5 after UK had cut the lead temporarily to only 1 point. At the under 8 time out, UT continues to hold on to that slim lead, currently at 5 points, 60-55, with UK having a single free throw attempt coming out of the time out. With about 7:50 to play, UK 's offensive efficiency stands at 0.833 ppp [55 points on 66 possessions] while UT's efficiency continues to hang at the 1.000 level [60 points on 60 possessions].

Out of the time out, UK converted the free throw, and scored 4 additional points to tie the Volunteers at 60-60 with 6:50 to play, forcing a Tennessee time out. This is now crunch time for these teams. A pair of Tennessee free throws followed by a Kentucky 3 gave UK a 1 point lead, 63-62 with 5:50 . However, after trading baskets with Kentucky for the next 4 minutes, UT made a final surge and finished the game with a 75-67 victory.

The Outcome:

Tennessee won the battle of the boards for the game, 38-36, and each team grabbed 13 offensive rebounds for the game. Tennessee grabbed a strong 36.1% of its misses as offensive rebounds while UK grabbed a below average 34.2% of its misses. UK scored 67 points on its 84 possessions [0.798 ppp] while Tennessee scored its 75 points using a total of 81 possessions [0.926 ppp]. Kentucky committed 15 turnovers to Tennessee 's 12 for the game.

Kentucky had 71 first chance possessions in which they scored 55 points, 0.775 ppp while they scored 12 points on their 13-second chance possessions, 0.923 ppp. Tennessee had 68 first chance possessions on which they scored 70 points, 1.029 ppp while they scored 5 second chance points on their 13 second chance possessions, 0.385 ppp.

Tonight UK shot the ball at about their season average from the field for the game. From the field, UK shot 52.2% [24-46] inside the arc, and a below average 4-16 from beyond the arc [25.0%] for a combined shooting percentage of 45.2%. The Free throw shooting was pitiful in terms of percentage and the number of opportunities was average, 7-15 [46.7%]. Tennessee also shot at about their season average from the field today. From inside the arc, Tennessee hit 48.6% [17-35] and from long range, Tennessee hit 38.5% [10-26]. Tennessee 's free throw shooting was fair, 11-17 [64.7%]. Kentucky committed one turnover for every 5.6 possessions while forcing a turnover in every 6.8 possessions. Last year, in comparison, these turnover rates were 6.2 and 4.6 respectively for the season.

I predicted a Kentucky loss to Tennessee today, 73-72. The predicted v. actual offensive efficiencies were 0.863 and 0.807 ppp respectively, and the predicted v. actual defensive efficiencies were 0.898 and 0.926 ppp respectively.

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Copyright 2006 Richard Cheeks
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