Tennessee goes on the road Wednesday night to face Mississippi State (9 pm, SEC Network). Donnie Tyndall and Josh Richardson met with the media Monday afternoon and around an hour of Tennessee’s Monday afternoon practice was open to the media.
SEC Play is Here: The SEC is probably a little better than expected this season and the Vols face a tough 18-game league schedule.
“I’ve had the chance to see probably everyone in our league play at least a couple of times,” Tyndall said on Monday. “Without question, from what I’ve heard, this is the best the league has been in a few years, top to bottom. Teams that maybe have been in the bottom tier of the league are having great seasons. South Carolina is having a great year. Mississippi State just beat a really good Florida State team. With the exception of Kentucky, you probably have 17 other games that you could lose – all 17 – or you could win all 17. It’s going to be that balanced.”
Mississippi State Physical: “They’re long and athletic,” Tyndall said of Mississippi State. “The Ware kid inside is a big, physical hard nosed kid. They’re going to defend. They go offensive rebound the ball very well. It’s a team that thus far has played a lot in the half court. They’re efficient in the half court offensively and they play the right way in the half court defensively.”
Scouting MSU: Tennessee opened practice with a lengthy scout walkthrough. Part of what makes Tyndall so successful is his zone defense is unique and tough to simulate. His defensive system has multiple rules and wrinkles based on how opponents try to attack it – and those rules aren’t evident on film. Teams simply can’t scout exactly how the Vols will defend them because they don’t know how UT’s defense will adapt to different situations. This is part of the reason the Vols have been such a successful second half team this year.
Starting Five: If practice is any indication, Tennessee will start Josh Richardson, Kevin Punter, Devon Baulkman, Armani Moore and Willie Carmichael Wednesday against the Bulldogs. They were the first group on the floor during Tennessee’s scout walkthrough and played together in live five-on-five portions of practice.
Team Chemistry Evident: The Vols had plenty of energy on the floor of Pratt Pavilion Monday afternoon and really looked like they were enjoying playing ball. There’s been a noticeable difference in the team’s attitude the last few weeks of practice. They’ve had tons of energy and are clearly having fun. Players are starting to settle into roles and this team could be finding its stride as it enters SEC play.
Five-on-Four: As they have during most open practices, the Vols ran through some full-court five-on-four drills. They did some half-court four-on-four work. Also of note: Tyndall is still calling fouls in practice. Tennessee has dramatically improved in that area after leading the nation in fouls per game early this season.