Tennessee vs. Kentucky: Betting Odds, Picks, and Predictions (1/15/22)

Tennessee vs. Kentucky Betting Odds

SEC basketball is better than it’s been in years. “It just means more” is actually starting to ring true on the hardwood.

This matchup attests to that. Rick Barnes and the Volunteers’ top-tier defense will visit John Calipari and a revamped Wildcat team. This is a massive Saturday afternoon matchup in the context of the SEC.

Tennessee already has a marquee win on its resume, toppling Arizona at home. Meanwhile, Kentucky has just one KenPom top-50 win (neutral court over North Carolina).

Therefore, the ‘Cats will be hungry. Calipari and Co. need this win to climb the bracketology rankings.

But do we buy Kentucky at home in this spot? Or is the Tennessee defense for real?

Tennessee Volunteers Odds

With Tennessee, it all starts on the defensive end.

The Vols boast, arguably, the best defense in college hoops. They’re second in defensive efficiency and sixth in turnover rate. Barnes’ squad is particularly active, defending cuts and hand-offs better than almost any team in the nation.

The only way to beat the Vols is through jump-shooting. They rank outside the top-100 in 3-point defense and spot-up points per possession allowed. Tennessee’s also sub-225 in opponent 3-point rate.

That rings true for the Vols losses. Villanova, Texas Tech, and Alabama are all perimeter-oriented offenses that can exploit those weaknesses. LSU is the odd one out, but the Tigers shot 44% from 3 and shot 27 free-throws in that game.

Offensively, everything is dependent on Kennedy Chandler. The true freshman from Memphis is the Vols’ highest-usage player and averaging 13.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. He’s top-50 in assist rate and ranks above the 70th percentile in pick-and-roll points per possession.

However, his teammates haven’t helped him out. The team is 234th in 3-point shooting (32.1%) and 292nd in free-throw percentage (66.5%). There are two other major contributors with an ORtg over 110.

Chandler could use some help on the offensive end. But that could also cause issues with the defensive chemistry.

Right now, the Vols are 11-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play. I don’t think Barnes is looking to make changes anytime soon.

Kentucky Wildcats Odds

On paper, the Wildcats do everything right.

The ‘Cats are top-25 in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage. They’re also top-10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. And Kentucky ranks above the 85th percentile in both points per possession and points per possession allowed.

Moreover, the Wildcats are led by Oscar Tshiebwe, who is a top candidate for National Player of the Year. He’s scoring 17 points per game with a top-30 ORtg (131.5), and he’s grabbing over 15 rebounds per game while pacing the nation in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

So, what’s the problem?

Kentucky needs better victories. The Wildcats are 1-3 in Quad 1 opportunities this season, with losses to Duke, Notre Dame, and LSU.

Right now, Kentucky is still projected as a four-seed in ESPN’s bracketology. That’s actually great, because the Wildcats will get multiple opportunities against Quad 1-A opponents like Auburn, Kansas, and LSU.

The Wildcats better win a good chunk of those games.

Tennessee vs. Kentucky Prediction and Pick

My pick: Kentucky -6 or better

While Tennessee has the better tournament resume so far, that doesn’t mean the Vols are a better team.

I think Tennessee is slightly fraudulent. The defense was similarly lauded last season, and that season ended in disappointment. Chandler and a revamped offense were meant to revolutionize Barnes’ team, but the Vols rank just 58th in offensive efficiency so far.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, Kentucky is very hungry for a big-time victory. And, the Wildcats will get this opportunity at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky will dominate down low with Tshiebwe and TyTy Washington will shoot over Tennessee’s exploitable pertimeter defense.

As a result, Kentucky will win convincingly.

Tanner joined Lineups to cover everything, but he has vast experience in, and unlimited passion for, Major League Baseball and NCAA Basketball. He’s a McGill University grad and former (Canadian) Division-I alpine ski racer who now spends his time drinking beer and betting home underdogs. Patrick Mahomes is a poor man’s Tom Brady.

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