KNOXVILLE -- Gone from a season ago are five first-round NBA draft picks.
To the Tennessee Volunteers, though, Kentucky is still Kentucky, and Rupp Arena is still Rupp Arena.
"They still have great talent, great young guys," UT point guard Melvin Goins said of the Wildcats after Monday's practice. "They still like to get in transition, and they like to run and score a lot of points. They get up and down [the floor]. That's what they like to do."
Added wing Cameron Tatum: "It's the same as far as their talent level. They bring in talent every year."
When the Vols meet Kentucky in a Southeastern Conference game tonight in Lexington, they won't have to deal with John Wall's blazing speed in the open floor and relentless driving, Eric Bledsoe's shooting, Patrick Patterson's consistency or DeMarcus Cousins' size and rebounding ability.
This year's Kentucky (16-6, 4-4) is similar in talent yet different in style.
"Last year we zoned them almost exclusively in three games," said UT coach Bruce Pearl, who returns for his first SEC game this season after sitting out the first eight because of a league suspension.
"This year we won't be able to play any zone because of their ability to shoot the ball and spread the floor. The way they're playing this year is a little more reminiscent of how Coach [John] Calipari's teams played at Memphis. Last year they were a power team; this year they're about speed and quickness. They're back to doing a great job of penetrating and getting to the foul line."
UT (15-8, 5-3) will have Pearl back on the bench, but whether leading scorer Scotty Hopson is back in the lineup is still uncertain. Pearl said Hopson (sprained ankle) is questionable, and if he does play his minutes will be limited.
Hopson participated during the first part of Monday's practice before sitting out to rest the left ankle that caused him to miss UT's two games last week.
"He's a big part of our team," Goins said. "We want him to play every night if he can. If he can go, that'll be wonderful. If he can't we've got to keep rolling and move on without him."
Kentucky's backcourt of freshmen Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb and juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins will test Goins and UT's other guards. Lamb (.478), Miller (.460) and Knight (.417) make up half of the SEC's top 3-point-percentage shooters, and even Terrence Jones, the Wildcats' 6-foot-8 freshman forward who leads the SEC in rebounds, likes to play on the perimeter at times.
"Most of their talent is coming from the wings," Tatum said, "and even some of their big guys -- Terrence Jones, he can drive it from the wing as well. They're pretty quick, they all can dribble to the basket and all of them can shoot."
Pearl called the trip to Kentucky and Saturday's trip to SEC East-leading Florida "great opportunities," and with or without Hopson the Vols know the kind of effort it will take at Kentucky, where the Wildcats have won 29 consecutive games.
"Everybody's going to have to step up times 10," Tatum said.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go into Rupp and try to get a win up there," Goins said. "Not a lot of teams are going to go in there and steal one. We're going to have to play special."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...