Tennessee (6-4) vs. Tennessee State (2-10)
Monday, Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, TN
TV: SEC Network
Probable Tennessee State Starters
G-Xavier Richards, 6-2, 198, JR (7.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
G-Marcus Roper, 6-5, 200, JR (11.0 ppg, 2.0 apg)
G-Jay Harris, 5-10, 170, SR (11.1 ppg, .415 3FG%)
F-Demontez Loman, 6-6, 188, JR (4.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
F-Christian Mekowulu, 6-9, 230, FR (6.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 200, SR (16.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, JR (10.1 ppg, 2.9 apg)
G-Devon Baulkman, 6-5, 200, JR (6.2 ppg, .526 3FG%)
F-Armani Moore, 6-5, 215, JR (10.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
F-Willie Carmichael III, 6-8, 210, FR, (4.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
Setting the Table
The Vols have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation thus far – there haven’t been any sure wins on UT’s slate. Tennessee State is as close as UT will get to a guaranteed victory. Picked to finish last in the East Division of the Ohio Valley Conference before the season, Tennessee State is 2-10 on the year and winless away from home.
They have losses to in-state programs Vanderbilt (78-46), Middle Tennessee (65-47) and Lipscomb (77-68). Their closest road loss came to Southern Illinois (65-58) on December 16th. Ranked 330th by KenPom.com, they’re easily the lowest ranked team on Tennessee’s schedule this season. TSU ranks near the bottom of the nation in points per game (322nd) and offensive efficiency (336th) and they have only been marginally better defensively – ranking 238th in points per game allowed and 261st in defensive efficiency.
Simply put: This is the only team on Tennessee’s schedule this season that you should expect the Vols to easily handle. The Tigers don’t have an explosive score like Mercer’s Ike Nwamu and don’t have the personnel to effectively attack Tyndall’s zone defense.
Tennessee ranks 63rd in the NCAA’s official RPI rankings that were updated on December 24th – Tennessee State ranks 347th out of 351 teams. While not many expected Tennessee to even be in bubble conversations prior to the season, for the Vols to stay in that conversation they absolutely cannot drop this game to TSU. Losing would be a resume killer reminiscent of the bad December losses that plagued the Vols the last few seasons.
The Vols will be looking to go 6-0 at home this season. Donnie Tyndall is now 32-1 at home in the regular season during the last three seasons – 27-1 at Southern Miss and 5-0 at Tennessee. Tyndall’s last regular season loss at home came on February 9th, 2013, when Southern Miss loss to Memphis.
Freshman Vol power forward Jabari McGhee will miss his third 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.
Junior Guard Devon Baulkman revealed after the Mercer game that he’s playing with a torn ligament in his left shoulder. He’ll have surgery on his injured shoulder after the season.
Ian Chiles, who missed significant time this season due to toe and shoulder injuries, still isn’t 100% but has been working his way into the rotation. He played a season high eight minutes against Mercer earlier this week.
3 keys for the Vols
1. Supplement Richardson: Junior guard Devon Baulkman exploded for 22 points against Mercer and is shooting a scorching 52.6% from 3-point range. Tennessee will need Punter, Baulkman or Mostella to score in double-figures nearly every game this season to ease Richardson’s scoring burden. Another big game from one of those three with some consistent scoring from the other two would be a great sign as the schedule turns to tougher opponents.
2. Find Points in the Paint: With McGhee out, Tennessee needs to develop an offensive threat in the paint. Armani Moore hasn’t been scoring at a high clip the last few games. The Vols will need him to score more when SEC play starts. Willie Carmichael has shown a nice touch around the basket the past few games, scoring eight in each outing. With a little more decisiveness, he could develop into a fairly consistent scoring threat. Getting 8-10 points a game from Carmichael and Moore would really help take some pressure off Tennessee’s guards.
3. Take Care of Business: TSU is a team Tennessee should handle no matter the circumstances. In ten games this season, UT has held a first half led just twice, but they did lead Mercer by double digits at the half in their last outing. Getting off to a good start against an outmatched foe would be another positive step for Tyndall’s squad.
KenPom.com: Tennessee 72-55
Daniel: Tennessee 80-62
Houston: Tennessee 85-67
Reed: Tennessee 78-57