College Hoops Tuesday: Your Commentary

February 8th, 2011
Tuesday night marks the return of Bruce Pearl to SEC play, and it's just in time for an important matchup between his Tennessee (15-8, 5-3) Volunteers and the Kentucky (16-6, 4-4) Wildcats. The winner remains in the hunt for the SEC East title, and while the loser won't be finished per say with both teams already owning losses to first-place Florida they'd be in a bit of trouble. John Calipari's Wildcats have done what most young teams do: struggle on the road while getting the job done at home, owning a home record of 10-0 on the season. For Kentucky to be successful Tuesday night they'll need to keep Tennessee out of the lane, something that can be tough given the offensive options the Volunteers possess.

Scotty Hopson (16.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Tobias Harris (14.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) are the most skilled of the Volunteers when it comes to offensive production while Cameron Tatum also averages double figures in scoring. Hopson (game-time decision; foot) will spend more time on the perimeter that Harris as he also shoots the three at a 37% clip. Harris, one of the best prospects in the 2010 class, has the versatility to do a number of things on the court and his size/skill could pose a challenge to Kentucky if someone other than Terrence Jones guards him for an extended period of time. Melvin Goins starts at the point and with an average of 7.8 points per game he can also make a dent in the scoreboard.

But the question for Tennessee's perimeter players is a simple one: can the make the proper decisions with the basketball? Tennessee averages 13.7 turnovers per game and with a turnover margin below one per game they don't generate turnovers as well as Volunteer teams of years past did. But this group is also well-equipped to play a halfcourt game given some of the big men on the roster, most notably senior Brian Williams. Williams, whose offensive rebound and shot won a game at Georgia earlier this season, grabs 7.7 rebounds per game with 3.4 of those coming on the offensive end. John Fields plays 14 minutes per game and grabs nearly as many offensive rebounds as defensive when on the floor, meaning that Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas need to use fundamentals (box out) to keep the Vols off the offensive glass.

Kentucky is a plus-5.1 in rebounding margin while Tennessee is a plus-6.3, likely meaning that said stat will say a lot about the outcome. On the perimeter for Kentucky Brandon Knight (17.5 ppg, 3.8 apg) averages nearly as many turnovers as assists per game, and while he can make just about any play on the floor he has to keep the miscues to a minimum. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins are solid supplementary options, and look for Liggins to guard Hopson as he's one of the nation's best defenders. And in Doron Lamb (13.8 ppg, 47.8% 3PT) Coach Calipari has one of the better sixth men around, possessing an offensive game worthy of the nickname bestowed upon him ("Smooth Criminal") at the Boost Mobile Elite 24 game a couple years ago by Bobbito Garcia.

Given what's at stake (and an environment likely stoked by the comments of some Volunteer players earlier this week) neither team should have much of an issue in regards to coming out ready to play, something that's been an issue for both at times. If anything there may be some concern that guys could come out too amped to play early, resulting in a turnover-laden sequence or two. Rebounding and unforced errors will determine the outcome in Lexington, with the winner having a little more say in the SEC East race than simply being a spoiler.

There's another important game in the SEC but it's of the non-conference variety as Xavier visits Georgia in a game both could use in regards to their tournament resumes. Tu Holloway has been one of the best point guards in America for Chris Mack but Mark Lyons has played very well of late, a development that doesn't allow opponents to simply focus on Holloway. Georgia's guards, especially Gerald Robinson Jr. and Dustin Ware, will need to bring it defensively as well as make sound decisions with the basketball. Inside there's the matchup of Georgia's tandem consisting of Jeremy Price and Trey Thompkins, and the Xavier duo of Kenny Frease and Jamel McLean. Both teams also have solid bench contributors, which should make for a very good contest.

And in the Ivy League Penn visits Princeton with the latter sitting alone in first place, meaning that a win for the Quakers at Jadwin Gym could throw the race for a loop. A win for Princeton would mean wins over both Harvard and Penn at this early juncture in the season, an important edge to own given the fact that they still have to visit both.

Top 25
10:30 PM Utah at (6) San Diego State (The Mtn.)
7:00 PM Indiana at (12) Purdue (ESPN)
9:00 PM Tennessee at (18) Kentucky (ESPN)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Xavier at Georgia (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Pennsylvania at Princeton
7:00 PM Cincinnati at DePaul (ESPN2)
7:00 PM George Mason at UNC Wilmington
7:00 PM Chicago State at IPFW
7:30 PM North Florida at Jacksonville (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Central Michigan at Buffalo (ESPN3)
8:05 PM Northern Iowa at Evansville
8:05 PM Creighton at Drake
8:05 PM Southern Illinois at Wichita State
9:00 PM Boston College at Clemson (ESPNU)