Saturday NCAA Game of the Day: Tennessee at Kentucky
by Matt Severance - 2/12/2010
Kentucky point guard John Wall gets all the hype as not only the nation’s top freshman, but also the potential National Player of the Year and likely No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But right now, Wall’s not even the best freshman on his own team.
That honor clearly belongs to center DeMarcus Cousins, who is dominating the paint and has racked up seven consecutive double-doubles, a feat no Wildcat has matched since 1973. During this current run, Cousins is averaging 19 points and 12.4 rebounds per game while shooting better than 55.1 percent from the field. Overall, he has 15 double-doubles, a UK freshman record and the most for a Wildcat since Jamaal Magloire’s 15 a decade ago.
I guess I am saying that Cousins is good, and it doesn’t seem like No. 12 Tennessee and its small frontline will be able to do anything to stop him. Thus No. 2 Kentucky has opened as 8.5-point favorites on BookMaker for Saturday night’s game in Lexington.
What’s even more amazing is that Cousins is averaging barely a half of the playing time: 21.7 minutes. Part of that is foul trouble, part of it has to do with Cousins’ maturity. And UK coach John Calipari knows there are only so many balls to go around and a lot of star players to keep happy. For example, senior All-American forward Patrick Patterson has almost been forgotten with Wall and Cousins around. Patterson is averaging 10.7 points and 5.6 rebounds in the past seven games. He has had double-digit shot attempts twice in that stretch. And for what it’s worth, while Cousins and Wall combined for 46 points and 33 shots a few weeks ago in UK’s loss to South Carolina, Patterson had a season-low in shot attempts (four) and points (five).
Tennessee wouldn’t seem to be able to put up much of a fight on Saturday. The Vols were just crushed by Vanderbilt on Tuesday night and have lost four of their past five road games to ranked teams. They are 2-2 in SEC road games (1-3) and those wins came against LSU, which enters the weekend 0-10 in the conference, and Alabama, which is 3-7 in the SEC. UT already is short on scholarship players and it won’t have one of its key reserves, guard Cameron Tatum, because of a foot injury. In addition, star center Wayne Chism, who has emerged as the Vols’ best player and really only true post player, suffered an ankle injury in the loss to Vandy. He is expected to play Saturday but probably won’t be 100 percent. Chism would draw the main assignment on Cousins, by the way. That could get ugly.
Don’t completely rule out the Vols. Bruce Pearl is 4-5 at Tennessee when facing Top 5 teams, and UT has won its past two against them, including handing No. 1 Kansas its only loss this season. The Vols’ only chance is to probably slow this to a half-court game (and hope Cousins gets into foul trouble). UT is 14-0 this season when holding opponents under 40 percent shooting, but UK shoots 46.5 percent in SEC play. Tennessee is among the national leaders in turnover margin but is a lock to get thoroughly outrebounded in this one.
The lines tend to be a bit overinflated toward Kentucky when the Cats play at home: They are 16-0 at Rupp this year but just 6-8 ATS. But the Vols have covered just one in their past six games and are banged up and shorthanded. Vandy’s frontline dominated Tennessee’s on Tuesday, and Kentucky’s is at a whole different level. Take the Cats and give the points.
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