By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
March has arrived, and the top three spots in the SEC Tournament in two weeks will be occupied by LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky. The final 3 games will determine the final order for these teams as they each enter this stretch drive with identical 13-2 conference records. There are four SEC teams sitting with 9-6 records, and even if one of the top 3 finish with 3 consecutive losses and one of these 9-6 teams win out, there is no way to unseat one of the top 3 from one of the top three seeds.
Since Kentucky and Tennessee each lost to LSU in their only meeting of the season, LSU holds the tie breaker over each of the other two. Therefore, for either Kentucky or Tennessee to overcome LSU’s tie breaker advantage, LSU must lose 1 more game than either Kentucky or Tennessee over the last 3 games on the schedule. For these reasons, tomorrow’s rematch between Kentucky and Tennessee will probably deliver the #3 seed to the loser. While the winner of tomorrow’s game will have a theoretical chance to still capture the #1 seed, that would require LSU to drop one of its 3 remaining games while tomorrow’s winner does not lose again prior to the tournament.
Therefore, the stakes are very high for Kentucky and Tennessee with they meet in Knoxville for their second game of the season. In their first game, played at Rupp Arena two weeks ago, Kentucky controlled the game and sent the Volunteers back to Knoxville with smarting from a 17 point loss. Since that game, Tennessee has been 2-1, losing at LSU and Kentucky has been 3-0, while losing the services of Reid Travis to a knee sprain.
Tennessee’s most recent game was a 2 point, 73-71, win at Mississippi while Kentucky’s most recent game was the weakest single game for the Cats at least since November, as the Cats squeaked out a 4 point win at Rupp over a hapless Arkansas team after trailing by 15 points early in the second half.
#71 TENNESSEE brings a 25-3, 13-2 SEC record into this game against the Cats. The Volunteers schedule has a SOS value of 0.0741 ppp (#52). The TENNESSEE ANE for the season stands at 0.288 ppp and their ANE over the last 5 games is 0.225 ppp.
The Cats’ schedule has a SOS value of 0.0909 ppp (#33). The Cats’ ANE for the season stands at 0..296 ppp, their season ANE since game 7 has been 0.349 ppp, and their ANE over the last 5 games is 0.290 ppp.
The ANE analysis based on Kentucky’s ANE since game 7 indicates a Kentucky margin of 1 point, 74-73, in a game played at a pace of 69 possessions. As a matter of record, the traditional ANE analysis indicates a 3 1/2 point Tennessee advantage and a “last 5” analysis indicates a UK advantage of 1 point. Pomeroy has this game as a 2 point Tennessee win, 73-71, at a pace of 66 possessions. Vegas has opened with the Vols favored by 2 ½ points.
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