Tennessee (5-4) vs. Mercer (6-5)
Monday, Dec. 22, 7:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, TN
TV: SEC Network
Probable Mercer Starters
G-Phillip Leonard, 6-2, 200, JR (9.3 ppg, 5.5 apg)
G-Ike Nwamu, 6-5, 205, JR (17.3 ppg, .421 3FG%)
G-Jibri Bryan, 6-4, 185, JR (8.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
F-Darious Moten, 6-6, 215, SR (9.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
F-T.J. Hallice, 6-10, 220, SR (9.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 200, SR (16.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, JR (10.6 ppg, 2.1 apg)
G-Devon Baulkman, 6-5, 200, JR (4.3 ppg, .462 3FG%)
F-Armani Moore, 6-5, 215, JR (10.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
F-Willie Carmichael III, 6-8, 210, FR, (4.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
Setting the Table
Mercer will be facing the Vols for the third straight season. Last year, the Vols downed the Bears 83-63 to advance to the Sweet 16. That game proved to be the last victory of the Cuonzo Martin Era in Knoxville. Mercer beat the Vols 75-67 in Knoxville in the NIT to close the 2012-13 season.
The Bears are picked to finish fourth in the Southern Conference. This will be their third true road game of the season – they’re 0-2 in games at Seton Hall and Colorado State – and their first of three consecutive road games against SEC teams. Statistically, not much jumps off the page when looking at Mercer. They’ve been a below average team in terms of both offensive (242nd per KenPom.com) and defensive (240th) efficiency this season.
They do a good job of crashing the offensive glass but aren’t a great defensive rebounding team, much like Tennessee. Look for Mercer to play mostly zone against the Vols tonight.
Tennessee will be looking to go 5-0 at home this season. Donnie Tyndall is now a remarkable 31-1 at home in the regular season during the last three seasons – 27-1 at Southern Miss and 4-0 at Tennessee. Tyndall’s last regular season loss at home came on February 9th, 2013, when Southern Miss loss to Memphis. The Vols have three wins over possible NCAA Tournament teams at home this season. Texas Southern, a team UT beat 70-58 on November 20th, won at No. 25 Michigan State over the weekend.
The Vols rank 61st in the NCAA’s official RPI rankings that were updated today. That puts the Vols squarely in bubble territory as 2014 nears its end. If Tennessee takes care of business in their next three winnable home games, they’ll be 8-4 entering SEC play.
Freshman Vol power forward Jabari McGhee will miss his second straight game with a foot injury. He’s expected to miss six to eight weeks after having surgery on the foot he injured against NC State.
“We’re playing in three days against a really good Mercer team that won a game in the NCAA Tournament last year.”
– Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall on Mercer after UT’s win over Tennessee Tech
3 keys for the Vols
1. Contain Ike Nwamu: Mercer’s leading scorer, Nwamu is a really good player who can beat opponents from deep and off the bounce. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game this season and shooting 42% from 3-point range. He made Sportscenter’s Top-10 twice last week for alley-oop dunks in two separate games. The Vols can’t lose him in their zone rotations.
2. Limit Free Points: The Bears do a good job of getting to the free throw line (83rd nationally in free throw attempts) and crashing the offensive glass (71st in offensive rebounding percentage). Defending without fouling and limiting second chance points should squash any chance Mercer has at an upset.
3. Keep Bigs out of Foul Trouble: Mercer has some size down low that could cause problems for Tennessee. T.J. Hallice, a 6-10, 220 pound senior, ranks second on the team in scoring (9.6 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.2 rpg). The Vols just don’t have depth on the front line and can’t afford to lose anyone to foul trouble against a team that hits the offensive glass like Mercer.
KenPom.com: Tennessee 66-55
Daniel: Tennessee 73-61
Houston: Tennessee 71-57
Reed: Tennessee 70-62