Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves brings the ball up court against Tennessee’s Jordan Gainey Saturday night at Rupp Arena. Feb. 3, 2024. Credit: Scott Utterback/The Courier Journal.

Kentucky and Tennessee Battle in Heavyweight SEC Showdown

No. 4 Tennessee men’s basketball might have locked up the SEC regular season conference crown Tuesday, but there’s still a lot on the line for Saturday’s game versus No. 15 Kentucky. The Volunteers (24-6, 14-3 SEC) are playing for a potential No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Kentucky (22-8, 12-5 SEC) locks up a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament with a win.

Tennessee On A Roll

The Volunteers have been rolling in the SEC all season, but they’ve been playing their best basketball of the season lately. In their last three games, they’ve defeated No. 13 Auburn at home, and No. 16 Alabama and No. 17 South Carolina on the road. Those results have catapulted them into the discussion to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. If Tennessee wants to keep that hope alive, a win on Saturday is essential.

Senior guard Dalton Knecht has been the star of the show for the Vols, averaging 24.6 points in conference play. Containing him is tough, but Kentucky will need to do just that to have a chance at winning. Other key players for Tennessee include junior forward Jonas Aidoo and junior guard Zakai Zeigler.

Kentucky Looking To Upset

As college basketball royalty, Kentucky isn’t used to being the underdog, especially when its offense is ranked third nationally with 89.7 points per game. The Wildcats have scored over their average the last four games, scoring 117 versus Alabama, 91 at Mississippi State, 111 against Arkansas and 93 versus Vanderbilt.

Senior Antonio Reaves is a major reason why, having scored at least 20 points  in the last six games. He’s averaging just under 22 points per game in SEC play. Freshman guards Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard, both projected top-10 picks in the upcoming NBA draft, have also been essential to Wildcat success.

SEC Outlook

While Tennessee is locked into the top seed of the SEC tournament regardless of Saturday’s result, Kentucky’s seed will vary depending on games elsewhere. If the Wildcats win, they get the No. 2 seed in all but one scenario (South Carolina win, Alabama/Auburn loss). If they lose, they can still get the two-seed if all relevant teams (Alabama, Auburn, Florida and South Carolina) also lose, or fall all the way to the No. 5 seed if Alabama and Auburn win.

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