Show Me My Opponent: Kentucky (#1)

Well, it’s Kentucky. I could go through all the reasons that the reader, certainly a Tennessee fan, should despise this program. I could go through the laundry list of overlooked recruiting violations that likely exist. I could go through all the reasons to truly despise John Calipari, one of the sport’s greatest slime-based characters. Even recognizing Tennessee’s own NCAA Tournament failures, I could talk about how truly funny it is that Kentucky’s still only got one title under Calipari and hasn’t reached the Final Four since the 38-1 year.

But that would be a waste of time, honestly. You know who Tennessee’s dealing with. You know all the history. You know all the pageantry. You know how many of their fans come to Thompson-Boling, attempting to turn the arena blue. There’s no point in rehashing things you already know about. So let’s explore something you may have forgotten about: the time Tennessee defeated Kentucky 47-46 in Rupp Arena under Jerry Green.

Recently, I’ve been deploying a variety of YouTube searches in an attempt to sort of relive the Jerry Green era as it happened. I’m 26 years old and didn’t start watching Tennessee basketball until the first Buzz Peterson season in 2001-02; before that, my limited basketball viewing experience was entirely NBA, as I truly adored Allen Iverson and how he dragged the abysmal supporting cast of his 76ers through opponents every single night. As such, I genuinely had no idea Tennessee basketball was supposed to be any good until Bruce Pearl came to town in 2005.

If you have 73 minutes of free time today, you could do worse than watch the game with me. Just like Tennessee’s win in Rupp in 2018, it was the release of a lifetime’s worth of emotions. Tennessee hadn’t won in Lexington since Jimmy Carter was President. The broadcast itself feels like a beautiful, lost relic of the late-1990s/early-2000s; if you can remember when ESPN broadcasted hockey, it’s a similar blast of nostalgia.

Tennessee did not defeat Kentucky in the prettiest of fashions. They shot 30%, committed 17 turnovers, and, again, scored 47 points. But all that mattered was that they scored one more point than Kentucky, who shot 31% themselves. It’s one of the ugliest wins in Tennessee history, and I cannot promise you that watching it again will give you any other opinions than “is this Wisconsin basketball.” But: Tennessee won. If Tennessee ran this exact game and structure back tomorrow, no one will complain, and they shouldn’t.

NEXT PAGE: Did you know that zero SEC teams rank in the top 25 of KenPom right now? Being serious: please name me any SEC team that feels like a real Final Four threat.

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