Tonight is the second match up of the year between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols picked up the win in the first game this season by the score of 76-65 in Knoxville. Since that game, the two teams have gone in opposite directions. Tennessee is trending upwards as one of the hottest teams in the country, while the Wildcats put up a clunker of a win over Vanderbilt a week ago as well as one of the uglier losses in the Coach Cal offense on Saturday.
It has been exactly one month since the first game, and Kentucky has gone a pedestrian 5-3 since, while Tennessee went 7-1 and jumped to #15 in the polls. With how difficult the remaining schedule is for Kentucky, tonight’s game is not technically a must-win, but if you don’t want the Cats to be in a really bad situation down the stretch, then tonight is a must-win.
Coach Cal has made his plea to the attending fans of tonight’s game to get on their feet and stay on their feet. If we’re being honest, it is embarrassing that our coach even has to do that. We are Kentucky. We have the most wins in the history of the sport. Our head coach shouldn’t have to ask our fans to be loud. The people in the first 10 rows of the stadium need to figure out that fans are there to make noise, not sit in silence. Period. Moving on, let’s take a look at the potential starting lineup that will face the Cats tonight.
#2 Grant Williams, Sophomore Forward, 6’7″
Grant Williams was named to the 2017 SEC All-Freshman team last season, and began this season by being named to the second team of the 2017-18 Preseason All-SEC awards. He’s the best player on this Tennessee team, returning as the second leading scorer and best rebounder from last season’s team. Williams finished with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 rebounds against Kentucky earlier this year.
The sophomore and two year starter has resumed his spot as the biggest contributor on the squad, leading the team in points at 16.2 and second in rebounds at 6.2. He’s a presence on the defensive end, blocking 1.3 shots per game and getting 0.7 steals per game. Not much of an outside shooter, Williams has only made 3 of 21 three point attempts on the season.
Measuring in at 6’7″ and 241 pounds, Williams has a similar build to Kentucky’s PJ Washington. Williams plays a lot bigger than his physical attributes would suggest. He was a force in the paint last season against the Cats, and continues that this season. Washington will have to step up his game on the defensive end of the floor to contain Williams to give the Cats a chance. While Washington had a solid first half against Williams in the first game, cramps kept him out most of the second half when Tennessee took over.
#5 Admiral Schofield, Junior Forward, 6’5″
Admiral Schofield was one of the finalists for the SEC 6th Man of the Year last season. The small forward had two big games against the Cats last season, combining for 32 points and 14 rebounds over the two games. Schofield’s size was an issue for Kentucky’s three guard lineup last season, and continued that this season, as he tallied 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 steals in the last game.
In his first year as a starter Schofield has stepped into the role and found immediate success. This season, he’s averaging 12.5 points and a team leading 6.3 rebounds. He’s stroking the three ball well this season, hitting 43.8% of his attempts. He’s also knocking down 76.5% of his shots from the free throw line.
As I mentioned above, Schofield is the small forward in the lineup for the Volunteers. He’ll match up with Kentucky’s Kevin Knox, and Knox will bring a 3-inch height advantage. However, what Schofield doesn’t have in height against Knox, he makes up for with a nearly 25 pound weight advantage. Knox struggled mightily in the first match up against Schofield, and will have to be a presence on both ends for Kentucky to knock of Tennessee.
#23 Jordan Bowden, Sophomore Guard, 6’5″
Jordan Bowden returns this year for his second year as the starting shooting guard for Coach Rick Barnes. Bowden is a lights out shooter from downtown, with the ability to really fill it up if he get’s going. Last game, he finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds, only going 1 for 3 from deep.
The NCAA Division I stats for three point shooting percentage on the season only include players who make 2.5 threes per game. Unfortunately for Bowden, he doesn’t qualify, but if he did, he would be a top 10 three point shooter in the country. He is the leader in the SEC, hitting 47.4% of his three balls on the season. He’s averaging 9.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game.
At the two guard position, Bowden matches up with Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo. Diallo, like he has for every game this season, brings an advantage in the athleticism column, and will need to utilize his speed and ability to run Bowden off the three point line. Diallo has been struggling on both ends of the floor, and the Cats need him to get back on track to help make this final push in the season successful.
#0 Jordan Bone, Sophomore Guard, 6’3″
Jordan Bone is the third returning sophomore starter for Coach Barnes this season. He was a part of the best scoring freshman class in Tennessee history last year. The speedster at the guard position is a Nashville, Tennessee native. He played well against Kentucky last season, scoring 15 points and pulling down 4 rebounds in a Volunteer loss. He scored 5 points in just 9 minutes in the win over Kentucky last month.
The sophomore is a steady contributor as the quarterback of this offense. He’s scoring 7.5 points, dishing out a team high 3.5 assists, and getting nearly 1 steal per game. He has one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the conference, and can knock down shots as well. He’s shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc and 83.3% from the charity stripe.
Playing the point guard position, Bone matches up with the two Kentucky guards of Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. In the first match up, Gilgeous-Alexander really struggled to get it going, finishing with 3 points and 5 turnovers in 38 minutes. As shown in the Missouri and Vanderbilt games, Kentucky will need him to start putting the ball in the basket to keep up with their opponent.
#11 Kyle Alexander, Junior Forward, 6’11”
Kyle Alexander is the fourth and final returning starter from last season’s Volunteer squad. He started 23 of 32 games last season, but only played a combined 10 minutes against Kentucky in two games last year. Alexander is a Milton, Ontario native, which is about a half hour drive from where Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was born, in Hamilton, Ontario. He had 9 points and 5 rebounds against the Cats last time.
Alexander isn’t a huge factor on the offensive end for the most part this season, but he is the resident big man in the paint. He’s currently averaging 6.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, to go along with a team leading 2 blocks per game. Alexander has made 27 of 37 free throws on the year.
At 6’11, Alexander is the same height as Kentucky freshman center Nick Richards, but Richards outweighs Alexander by 20 pounds. Richards continues to have his ups and downs, but he seems to be improving from an overall stand point. Constant improvement is all Cal can hope for with these freshmen.
Go Cats. Beat Volunteers.