I hate that this year-long-pined-for and sacred (at least around here) match-up has to happen so early in the year this year, but alas, Roy Kramer no longer takes my phone calls. And even if he did, I’m not sure he contributes to the scheduling any more… I think mainly that guy is George Bodenheimer anyway.
At any rate, the Cats pack up and head down I-75 towards my alma mater. The game has been sold out for weeks. The injury bug that has afflicted both squads is slowly being eradicated. The Cats have Ramon Harris and Michael Porter back to full strength. The Vols have JP Prince as healthy as he’s going to be and Tyler Smith’s knee-bone-bruise is subsiding.
Let’s not kid ourselves though. We’ve seen all 32 games this year. It’s going to come down to 4 very simple keys.
1) The first 8 minutes. Both the Cats and the Vols have had horrible stretches in the season, both on the road and at home, where they fail to start the game with any kind of rhythm, flow, or scoring. The first and best team out of the gate will have a decided advantage in this contest.
More Cat-Vol talk after the jump.
2) Defense. Both Kentucky and Tennessee are known for defensive prowess. For the Cats it is in half-court, lock-down, forcing-bad-shots, in-your face type. For the Vols it is in force full court turnovers, prevent inbounds passing, and eliminating second chance points. If Kentucky is getting offensive boards, the Vols will have a long night. If the Bruce’s boys can get away from (as SVP has stated) “valuing the basketball less than any team ever,” and play smart in half court, get Tyler some good looks, and hit a few (not necessarily a ton) of outside shots, they’ll be in good shape.
3) Perry Stevenson v. Tyler Smith. Stevenson ate Smith’s lunch last year and never apologized. Smith remembers.
“I know exactly who he is,” Smith said. “He played some great ‘D’ on me last year, and I didn’t get off to a good start against that guy in either game. But that was last year, and this is a different team.”
The questions are, did Tyler get quicker in the offseason? Did Perry get stronger? Who got better?