Show Me My Opponent: Kentucky (#2)


Build on the successes of the Florida game, namely attacking the paint

Now that’s more like it. Sure, Tennessee made it sweatier than it should’ve been, but that’s the fun and the horror of rooting for a very young, very flawed basketball team. All that matters is Tennessee got the win, Rick Barnes is now 5-1 against Mike White and Florida, and Tennessee’s very slim NCAA Tournament hopes are somehow still alive. Now, they get rewarded for this win by going on the road to a place they’ve won at once in the last decade-plus. Fun times!

Now, they get to take this show to a true road environment one final time. Never again will this collective team exist in a true road game; this is their final chance. By now, they know the scout: Tennessee will need to go at Richards and Montgomery early and often and simply live with the consequences.

If you get shots blocked, who cares as long as you get back on defense? It’s about the long game rather than short satisfaction. As we’ve noted all season long, both John Fulkerson and Yves Pons are excellent at scoring out of the post, albeit in very different ways.

Couple that with Jordan Bowden’s newfound ability to drive to the rim, along with Santiago Vescovi hopefully encouraging his own interior versatility, and you might have something here.

Work the perimeter for open looks

Kentucky’s perimeter defense posts gaudy numbers, but there’s reason to believe Tennessee can get their share of open shots against it. It’s a strange pair of main lineups for Kentucky: the three guards are all 6’3”, but the two forwards are between 6’9”-6’11”. There’s no middle ground to contain a shooter like Yves Pons or Josiah-Jordan James; both really need to get their shots up in this one.

I think Tennessee can and should run 4-out lineups for the majority of this game, leaving either Fulkerson or Plavsic at the 5. Actually, Drew Pember could be a key bench piece in this one, considering his ability to stretch the floor.

Force as many non-rim twos as humanly possible

Kentucky’s excellent at converting their attempts at the rim, as they pretty much always are. Every single rotation player other than Immanuel Quickley converts 54% or more of their rim attempts, with everybody but Quickley/Hagans going for 60% or better. Just like last time, I’d suggest Tennessee pack the paint and let Kentucky take anything else they want.

I think if you’re a Tennessee fan, you can and should live with letting Kentucky taking as many 10+ foot jumpers and floaters as they want. These are simply lower-percentage attempts than shots at the rim; if they hit them, they hit them.

Plus, the fewer attempts at the rim Kentucky gets, the less likely they are to pound their way to the free throw line over and over. They offer a deadly combo of getting there often (#10 in FTA/FGA) and hitting said attempts (#1 in FT%, 79.6%). Florida actually did a phenomenal job on this exact gameplan, as Kentucky was forced to take 25 non-rim twos, hitting only 8, and only getting 10 free throw attempts.

The good news is that Kentucky takes an absurd 40.9% of their shots as non-rim twos. EJ Montgomery, Richards, Quickley, and Keion Brooks all take at least 40% of their shots from this range; only Richards hits more than 40% of his. As mentioned, Immanuel Quickley and Nate Sestina are the only quality three-point shooters on this roster. If they make threes, it is what it is; every other player, you are allowed to be annoyed by their success.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, and a prediction you may or may not want to see

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