Across the (By)Line: Tennessee Volunteers


The Kentucky Wildcats huddle up during the UK vs. Miles College men’s basketball game on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 80-71. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

The “Across the (By)Line” series will give Kentucky basketball fans an in-depth look at their opponent for this week — from the mind of the opposing school’s sports editor.

This week: The Daily Beacon, Josh Lane, Tennessee

Where do you see Tennessee amongst the ranks of the SEC? How good do you think they are and do you think that they are good enough to win an SEC Championship?

Lane: At the beginning of the year, I would have put Tennessee up with the best of the best. They had five-star recruits coming in, John Fulkerson coming back, veterans stepping up in another year under head coach Rick Barnes; it was good at the beginning of the year. Obviously, they’re playing weaker teams then. Now that they got into the meat of their schedule against some harder non-conference teams and into SEC play, they haven’t looked the same. The last three or four games, offense has been really hard to come by. Right now, I’m a little hesitant to say that they’re at the top of the SEC. Definitely in the top half, but I have a hard time imagining them competing for an SEC Championship.

Oscar Tshiebwe has dominated headlines in the world of college basketball. How do you see Tennessee attempting to contain him on Saturday?

Lane: Tshiebwe is going to give Tennessee trouble. Lately, Tennessee has not had much of an inside presence. Fulkerson had COVID-19; he came back and it hasn’t been the same. They’re playing Olivier Nkamhoua, he’s had some good and bad games. Defense has still been really good for Tennessee, but for them to have any chance stopping Tshiebwe it’s going to be up to those big guys up the middle. We know they have the talent, but they haven’t looked like it the last couple of games.

What do you think Rick Barnes’ gameplan is going to look like against UK?

Lane: Offensively, Barnes this year, it’s been uncharacteristic of him, has really preached all about taking shots if you get good looks. You get the open shots, go ahead and take them. This team is shooting 20-plus 3-pointers a game. That never used to happen on a Rick Barnes team. Especially with Tennessee’s slump, it’s been the small, fundamental things, positioning and such, that’s thrown off their shots. So I think it’s going to be just be confident, take your shots, but it’s also going to be about the small things, the fundamentals, the details, because Tennessee has been messing that up.

What, to you, is the most intriguing matchup on Saturday?

Lane: Obviously, Oscar has stolen the show quite a bit. But also TyTy Washington, Tennessee will need to try and contain him. But I’m looking up the middle for Tennessee, in particular John Fulkerson. He and Tennessee have had some success in Kentucky in the past, so will that translate to this year? I don’t know, but he’s going to be a big part of it if it does happen.

Who is one player on Tennessee that needs to step up for the Volunteers to have a chance in Rupp Arena?

Lane: Kennedy Chandler is a big name, he’s played well … so I’d say for him to continue if he can cut back on the freshman mistakes. Also Zakai Zeigler, he has come off of the bench a lot, he’s been a big spark plug for Tennessee at point guard. He’s short, but he’s got a lot of energy, he’s feisty and doesn’t quit.

Do you think that Tennessee will do enough to win on Saturday?

Lane: I think Kentucky is going to win this one. They’re looking pretty good right now and I can’t see Tennessee fixing everything and being ready for a Kentucky offense by Saturday. I think UK wins by eight to 10 points.