Tennessee (8-4) vs. Mississippi State (7-6)
Wednesday, Jan. 7th, 9:00 p.m. ET
Humphrey Coliseum (10,575) • Starkville, MS
TV: SEC Network
Probable Mississippi State Starters
G-I.J. Ready, 5-11, 170, SO (6.7 ppg, 1.4 spg)
G-Craig Sword, 6-3, 200, JR (4.1 ppg, 1.0 apg)
G-Travis Daniels, 6-8, 219, JR (7.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
F-Oliver Black, 6-9, 224, FR (1.4 ppg, .500 FG%)
F-Fallou Ndoye, 6-11, 222, FR (4.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 200, SR (16.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, JR (10.5 ppg, .382 3FG%)
G-Devon Baulkman, 6-5, 200, JR (5.6 ppg, .522 3FG%)
F-Armani Moore, 6-5, 215, JR (9.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
F-Willie Carmichael III, 6-8, 210, FR, (4.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Setting the Table
Not many people thought the Vols would be 8-4 headed into conference play, even fewer thought Tennessee would legitimately be in bubble conversations. The Vols have played one of the toughest schedules in the nation thus far and simply don’t have a bad loss on their resume. Mississippi State is coming off a 62-55 home victory over Florida State.
The Bulldogs are 6-2 at home this season with a loss to Arkansas State (69-55) in addition to a loss to McNeese State (66-47). Tennessee boasts a higher RPI than any team MSU has beaten this season. Mississippi State ranks near the bottom of the nation in points per game (303rd) and assists (347th) and Tennessee’s zone defense should cause them all kinds of problems.
Tennessee ranks 71st in the NCAA’s official RPI rankings that were updated on January 7th – Mississippi State ranks 220th out of 351 teams. The Bulldogs are the lowest ranked SEC team in the RPI and, fair or not, a loss would really hurt UT’s standing as a bubble team. There are no “must wins” this early in the season, but if the Vols were to drop this game, it’d be the first bad loss (from an RPI perspective) on their resume.
The Vols will be looking to win their first true road game of the Donnie Tyndall era. A victory would give UT a 1-0 record in SEC play headed into a big matchup with a very solid 11-3 Alabama team (2 pm in Knoxville on Saturday, TV: SEC Network).
“They are long and athletic. They have had some injuries, but it looks like their team is rounding into shape and getting healthy. [Gavin Ware] is a big, hard-nosed kid. [Craig Sword] is coming off a back injury, and it looks like he’s getting better and better every night. They can defend and can get offensive rebounds very well. Playing on the road is obviously tough. They have played a lot in the half court. They are efficient in the half court offensively. Our goal will be to get the game to go up and down a little more than they are used to. They have been a good team here of late, and they are healthy for the first time all year.” – Donnie Tyndall on Mississippi State
Freshman Vol power forward Jabari McGhee is likely out for the season after foot surgery. Junior Guard Devon Baulkman will be playing with a torn ligament in his left shoulder, but he has been effective. Ian Chiles, who missed significant time this season due to toe and shoulder injuries, will have surgery on his injured shoulder and will miss the remainder of the season. The Vols will only have nine scholarship players available.
3 keys for the Vols
1. Win the Turnover Battle: The ability of the Vols to take care of the basketball while turning opponents over has been impressive for such a young team. Tennessee boasts a +3.3 turnover margin this season while MSU has a -1.6 TO margin. The Vols will be playing just their second true road game of the season – they’ll have to avoid uncharacteristic turnovers and keep the pressure on the Bulldogs to have a shot at the first road win of Tyndall’s tenure.
2. Don’t Settle For 3s: Tennessee should outscore the Bulldogs from 3-point range – MSU is shooting a dismal 27.5% from deep this year – but that doesn’t mean they can fall in love with the three. The Vols are best when they space the floor, attack the basket and take good looks from deep. Mississippi State is only allowing teams to shoot 31.9% from 3-point range – they are allowing opponents to shoot a much better 47.4% from inside the arc. A balanced Vol attack with around 15 attempts from beyond the arc gives UT the best chance to win.
3. Keep the Bulldogs off the Line: Mississippi State attacks the hoops and doesn’t take a ton of jump shots. The Vols will have to defend without fouling, something that’s been a struggle at times this year, to knock off MSU. When the Bulldogs get to the line, they shoot a high percentage. The Vols can’t afford to lose anyone to foul trouble and absolutely can’t let MSU – a team that shot 92% from the charity stripe in their last home win against Florida State – get free points at the line. Tennessee’s ability to keep the Bulldogs off the glass and limit second chance points will go a long way towards keeping the Vols out of foul trouble.
KenPom.com: Tennessee 60-58
Daniel: Tennessee 63-58
Houston: Tennessee 55-51
Reed: Tennessee 60-56