NOTE: This has considerably more GIFs (50+) than a normal post (20-30). Because of this, I’ve broken up the What They Bring (Offense/Defense)/How Tennessee Stops It/Prediction sections into different “pages” so you can load them faster. You’ll be able to access them by clicking the pages at the bottom or by clicking those links above.
Almost immediately after their loss to LSU on Tuesday night, I got the question: has John Calipari ever lost back-to-back games at Rupp Arena? The answer, of course, is no; Kentucky’s lost nine home games total since he took over the job in 2009-10. Of course, Tennessee hadn’t swept a regular season series with Kentucky since 1998-99. A ranked Tennessee team hadn’t beaten a ranked Kentucky team at Rupp ever. Together, they’ve only played each other twice when both teams were ranked in the AP Top 10, and it hasn’t happened since 1968; Tennessee won 60-59 at Rupp as the #5 team in America. Recent history doesn’t matter; only Saturday matters.
As of two months ago, it was fair to wonder if Kentucky would be ranked, period. Kentucky blew a winnable game at home to bubble team Seton Hall, they got shredded by Duke in the season opener, and had to overcome second-half deficits to beat Southern Illinois and UNC Greensboro. Teams were ripping them up from downtown: Duke hit 12 of 26 threes, VMI hit 19 of 38, Wintrhop 13 of 28, and Seton Hall 11 of 26. John Calipari was tweeting sad boy stuff:
Like, it wasn’t good. And then they flipped the switch and became, at worst, a top ten team. Every season, Calipari needs a month or two to figure out why a roster littered with future NBA players can’t play together. Then, around mid-January, sometimes February, they figure it out. It happened last year (Date of Switch Flip: February 17), it happened in 2017 (February 7), and it happened in 2016 (February 6). The only difference is that they flipped it a little earlier than usual because they haven’t had to deal with another top five team in the SEC since 2013-14 Florida. It happens every damn year, and I’m sick of it.
The only difference this year is that Calipari isn’t farting around for three months with multiple top 10 picks in his hands. No player on Kentucky’s roster is currently projected to go higher than 12th in ESPN’s latest mock draft. The best player on the team is a 6’8″ sophomore who lost (and later regained) his starting spot in the middle of SEC play last year. The team’s highest minutes-getter is a white guy from Wisconsin that was Kentucky’s lowest-rated commit (AKA, a four-star) in 2018. It’s a deeply weird Kentucky team compared to the norm. So of course they look like a serious Final Four threat.