Tennessee Could Be Kentucky’s Toughest Remaining Road Test
There is only one story that matters in college basketball these days and it’s whether the University of Kentucky will make history by running the table and win the national championship. Perhaps UK’s toughest remaining road test arrives on Tuesday night when the Wildcats visit a Tennessee team that needs a big win to boost its NCAA Tournament hopes. Kentucky is a 14-point favorite on Sportsbook.ag.
UK Chasing History
No major conference team has gone unbeaten that since that historic ’76 Indiana squad. In the past 35 years only two teams in total have done it: UNLV in 1991 (lost in national semifinal) and Wichita State in 2014 (lost in second round to Kentucky after the Wildcats were grossly under-seeded). The numbers of Ken Pomeroy, the NCAA stats guru, give Kentucky just a 65.5% chance of finishing the regular season undefeated and that’s with a schedule that doesn’t feature a single team currently in his Top 25. (Kentucky’s final regular season games are against No. 26 Arkansas, No. 35 Georgia and No. 34 Florida, but two of those games are at home.) Then, there’s 10 more games to go through. Kentucky may be 25-0, but they’re barely 60% of the way to a 40-0 record.
The Wildcats are the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press Top 25 for the third straight week. With one month to go until Selection Sunday, Kentucky (25-0) received all 65 first-place votes from a media panel Monday after holding off LSU and rolling over South Carolina last week. Should Kentucky remain at the top over the next five polls, it would become the eighth team to stay at No. 1 all season and first since UNLV in 1991.
Kentucky matched its best start in school history — tying the 1953-54 team — with a 77-43 victory over South Carolina on Saturday. The Wildcats needed less than 12 minutes to build a 20-point lead. Dakari Johnson had 13 rebounds and 10 points for Kentucky, which shot 50 percent. Kentucky held South Carolina to 23.6 percent from the field. It was the 11th game this season that the Wildcats have held a team under 30 percent. UK is 55-0 in the John Calipari Era when holding opponents to 55 or fewer points, including 17 times this season. Kentucky had lost a bit of an edge in recent weeks, especially on defense. Opponents had scored a point per possession in the previous four games entering the South Carolina game after managing to do so just twice in the season’s first 20 games.
Vols Need Help For Bid
Tennessee (14-10, 6-6) isn’t an NCAA Tournament team right now and has lost six of its past eight games. A win would give Tennessee three victories over AP top-25 teams this season. The Kentucky series is UT’s oldest and most-played among SEC opponents. The Vols and Wildcats first met on Feb. 5, 1910, and have clashed 217 times over the years.
Since the AP poll was established, an unranked UT team has beaten a ranked Kentucky team 17 times. No program in college basketball has logged more wins over Kentucky than Tennessee (67). In seven of the last eight meetings in this series, the team that wins the rebounding battle has won the game (last season’s game in Lexington being the exception).
Tennessee is 4-12 all-time against the No. 1-ranked team in the Associated Press poll. Of those 16 previous meetings with the AP’s top-ranked team, Kentucky has been the opponent 10 times. The Volunteers are 4-4 in their last eight games against the No. 1 team in the nation, that includes two wins in their last four tries.
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