Tennessee-Kentucky Betting Guide: Can Vols Handle Step Up in Class?

Tennessee-Kentucky Betting Guide: Can Vols Handle Step Up in Class? article feature image
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USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: PJ Washington and Admiral Schofield

Tennessee-Kentucky Betting Odds

  • Odds: Kentucky -3.5
  • Total: 145
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of 6 a.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and win probabilities on your bets.


Kentucky has been here before. Top 5 matchups in mid-to-late February are the norm for John Calipari’s teams.

Tennessee is a little bit of a newcomer to this stage, at least in recent memory. And the Vols have not been tested on the road — nothing even close to the caliber of team or environment they’ll face in Lexington on Saturday.

Does that mean there’s a betting edge? Let’s dive in.

Market Moves for Tennessee-Kentucky

Kentucky opened at -2.5 across the market and was bet up a full point overnight, and even to -4 at some books.

The Vols are getting the majority of the betting tickets, but money is split down the middle. — Steve Petrella

Trends to Know

Tennessee is the second-best shooting team in the country, connecting on 51.5% of its attempts this season, while Kentucky is shooting 47.5% (tied 41st). When two good shooting teams meet, making at least 45% of attempts, it has been profitable to bet the under since 2005. This season, under bettors following this system have gone 203-141-1 (58.5%). — John Ewing

March 4, 2009. That’s the last time Kentucky lost back-to-back home games. The Cats ended up going to the NIT that year, the season before John Calipari arrived in Lexington. And since Cal arrived at UK, the Cats have never lost back-to-back games at Rupp Arena (8-0), where it has gone 123-9 in those 10 seasons.

However, one of those losses did come at the hands of Tennessee last season, 61-59. — Stuckey

Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington in 2009, the Wildcats have only played two games against a top-10 team coming off a straight-up loss. Kentucky is 0-2 SU and ATS. — Evan Abrams

When Tennessee Has the Ball

Not only are the Wildcats set up for a bounce-back performance after Tuesday’s last-second loss to LSU, but they match up well with the Vols’ second-rated Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (124.1 points per 100 possessions). Rick Barnes’ unit is about to step up in class after a weak slate to start SEC play, and it starts in the frontcourt.

Tennessee owns the 19th-highest scoring rate (56.1%) from inside the arc, guided by the 6-foot-7 Grant Williams (19.4 points per game). But Kentucky has yielded an above-average 47.8% scoring percentage from that vicinity, along with allowing the 13th-lowest two-point clip (44.0%). Two-way forward Reid Travis will give Williams fits in the low post.

Moreover, a major key to the Vols’ 19-game winning streak has been the evolution of point guard Jordan Bone (13.2 ppg), who’s given them a reliable third scorer. Wildcats freshman Ashton Hagans is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, though, exhibited by 4.7% steal rate — the 11th-highest in the nation.

Bone has averaged 3.3 turnovers per game over his past six contests, and Hagans’ ball pressure will limit Tennessee’s half-court effectiveness. — Eli Hershkovich

When Kentucky Has the Ball

The weak link in the Volunteers’ defense is on the boards. Tennessee ranks 259th in offensive rebounding efficiency allowed. Kentucky ranks 29th in the country with an average of 12.4 offensive rebounds per game. The Wildcats will get many second-chance opportunities.

Within SEC play, Tennessee’s weak link has been defending the 3P. The Volunteers are first in the conference in defending the 2-pointer but 13th against the 3-pointer. PJ Washington (43.1%), Keldon Johnson (40.7%), and Tyler Herro (35.4%) will need to make the most of their opportunities. In Kentucky’s 20 wins they have shot 37.3% as a team from 3P. In their four losses, 25.7%.

Kentucky needs to feature Washington (14.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) early and often. The Wildcats leading scorer is averaging 20.7 points and is shooting 50% (11 of 22) from beyond the arc in his last seven games. Herro is also shooting 50% (8 of 16) from 3P in his last four games. — Mike Randle

No Road Tests for Tennessee

Tennessee’s road accomplishments in conference, or lack thereof, is an interesting angle in a game without many obvious handicapping angles. The SEC has just been so gruesome to watch a lot of the season, and as a result, some of the road tests that should normally be there just aren’t.

The KenPom ratings of Tennessee’s 5 true-road conference opponents: 94, 38, 128, 93, 95.

The effort required to beat Kentucky will be massive, and that frankly is not an effort that has been required of Tennessee since it beat Gonzaga more than two months ago.

I’m not even sure we know as much about this team as we think we do, but this should help us get closer to the answer. I would lean Kentucky with the idea that maybe its home-court advantage in this spot is worth more than -3.5, and it is rated slightly better to me, but it’s marginal. I am eager to see Tennessee finally tested again. — Ken Barkley

Stuckey: How I’m Betting Tennessee-Kentucky

As you might expect, not much separates these two elite teams — both of which are true final four contenders. Tennessee can bully a lot of teams in the nation with its size, but UK has the bodies to match up. In fact, both teams have an average roster height of exactly 78 inches (top 40 in nation).

I have Tennessee rated just a tad higher, but UK is a deserving favorite after accounting for home-court advantage and the spot, which heavily favors Kentucky. While I don’t see much value with the Cats at -3, I do think the Cats pull this one out and will be throwing them in a moneyline parlay.

I think Kentucky can win this game on the offensive glass, where it thrives. The Cats rank third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and despite its size, the Vols have struggled getting boards on the defensive end of the floor (259th).

The spot heavily favors Kentucky coming off a home loss to LSU. Also, the Kentucky defense has been trending up and putting up gaudy numbers, while the Vols have been going the opposite direction — I think mainly as a result of a lack of focus due to a ridiculously easy scheduling stretch.

I mean, since the impressive win over Gonzaga way back on Dec. 9, Tennessee hasn’t faced a single ranked team. You could even argue that the last 16 Vols opponents will not make the tournament (Alabama the most likely and Florida has an outside shot, but those are the hardest teams it has played in conference).

This is a huge step up in class for a Vols team that has been in cruise control against inferior opponents for the past few months. Here are their road wins this year:

  • Memphis
  • Missouri
  • Vanderbilt (in OT)
  • South Carolina
  • Texas A&M

Yup, that’s it. I love this UT team, especially since I have a preseason 35-1 future on them, but I have to call it like I see it. The Cats get this one done. I’ll be throwing them in a ML parlay with the Sharks in the NHL.

Stuckey’s Pick: Kentucky Moneyline