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Kentucky Wildcats
As expected, Kentucky and Tennessee will meet in the SEC Tournament semifinals to determine if either team can stay within 10 points of the other. Both regular season games were one-sided, which doesn't clear uo much about which team is better and potentially deserving of a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Before I get into the numbers and insights from earlier meetings, here are the one-page stats profiles for each matchup:

UK vs Tennessee, Feb 16th

UK vs Tennessee, March 2nd

In the first matchup, UK won by 17 points. The UK starters did the heavy lifting, outscoring Tennessee by 14 points in 28 possessions. In the rematch, Tennessee won by 19 points. UK had a different starting lineup due to Reid Travis' injury, but the lineup of Hagans/Herro/Johnson/Washington/Richards did manage to outscore the Vols by 1 point in 18 possessions. At the very least, UK knows that they can put together a gameplan so their go-to lineups can outscore Tennessee. 

With Travis' injury and Washington's foul trouble in the second matchup, there isn't much to glean from the specific lineups in each game. Other than the fact that UK's starters in each game did well, there was one other combo that did well each time. When UK substituted Immanuel Quickley in for Keldon Johnson, they outscored Tennessee by 4 points in the first matchup and 2 points in the second. Obviously, the first game had Reid Travis in with this group and the second game had Nick Richards, but in both cases Quickley held up well as a straight swap for Keldon Johnson. 

For today's game, it will be interesting to see how much UK can lean on their usual starters (including Reid Travis). That group was +6 in 18 possessions against Alabama yesterday, so they seem to be picking up right where they left off before Travis' injury. Immanuel Quickley good again be a valuable substitute, as he can provide on-ball defense to hopefully slow down Jordan Bone. Bone carved up UK in the second matchup, but the Cats very rarely put Quickley on him; were they maybe saving that adjustment for this game?

There was one interesting statistic that was consistent between the two matchups this season. Kentucky shot poorly in transition opportunities (which I define as shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock). In the first game, UK had an effective FG% of only 40% on these shots, compared to their season average of 53%. During the second matchup, UK again shot poorly in the first 10 seconds with an eFg% of 36%. Tennesee ranks 18th in the nation in defending transition shots (per hoop-math.com), so it seems likely that UK will again struggle to convert shots in transition today. Tennessee is very good at getting back on defense and slowing down the early outlet passes.

In the first game, UK made up for poor transition shooting by having an eFG% of 65% on shots from 11 seconds and later, and by making 3 of their 4 shots on putbacks. The difference in the second game was that UK had a horrendous 13% eFg% on shots between 11 and 20 seconds into the shot clock. That seems like a complete fluke, given that in the same game UK had an eFg% of 62% on shots after 20 seconds. Teams usually don't get more accurate later in the shot clock, when lower quality shots get taken, so UK should be able to more closely resemble the offensive team they were in the first matchup. 

The keys to today's game are likely to be UK's ability to force turnovers and get offensive rebounds. Int he first matchup, UK's starters pulled away early in the second half during a run where Tennessee committed 3 turnovers. UK extended their lead from 6 points to 16 in this time. Tennessee usually is good at taking care of the ball, but UK made a nice adjustment to help on Jordan Bone in the middle of the floor. In particular, Pj Washington forced a turnover by stepping up to help when Bone thought he had an open jumper; Bone was forced to try to make a late pass and Hagans came up with the steal. In the second matchup, Kentucky's starters (with Richards) grabbed 45% of their own misses which offset a 38% eFG%. Richards came up with 4 offensive boards himself. Given that Tennessee is a poor defensive rebounding team, Kentucky should be able to excel in this area today.

Tennessee is an excellent team, and it's going to be tough for UK to beat them. The Vols are very efficient offensively, and it's going to be key for UK to counteract this by getting more shots at the basket than the Vols. They can due this by getting offensive rebounds and forcing turnovers. If UK has strong games in these areas today, they should be able to sneak out a win over the Vols.
I want to thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. At Hoops Insight, I hope to use data to find insights that reveal things you didn't realize about the Kentucky Wildcats. I'm using play-by-play data to track what's happening, who's doing it, and who is in the game, in order to show you things the box score can't. Check out my past newsletters in the Hoops Insight Archive, and read about the stats I like to use in my stats glossary.

If you have any questions about things I'm saying, the data behind it, or if you just want to debate a point, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @hoopsinsights or email at sean@hoopsinsight.com. I'd love your feedback on the newsletter and how I can improve. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy my work.
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