Tennessee goes on the road Saturday for a matchup with Missouri (6 pm, SEC Network). Donnie Tyndall, Kevin Punter and Derek Reese met with the media Thursday afternoon and around an hour of Tennessee’s practice was open to the media. Here are some notes from those sessions.
High Expectations: Junior forward Derek Reese stated that the Vols had high expectations before the season – he named making the Sweet 16 and the SEC Championship Game as their goals. Tennessee comes in at 54th in the NCAA’s latest official RPI and the Vols are IN the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed according to Jerry Palm’s most recent projections. With a win over then No. 15 Butler last month and a victory over No. 19 Arkansas Tuesday night, those goals may not be as farfetched as they once seemed.
The Vols are halfway through the season and in a position to make some noise down the stretch. But, as Tyndall cautioned, “We have a lot of basketball to play and we’re worried about Missouri.”
Punter’s Missouri Connection: Kevin Punter spent the previous two years tearing through the JUCO ranks at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, MO., and his recruitment came down to Tennessee and Missouri last year. Though the junior shooting guard is just 1-15 from the floor the last two games, he made four big free throws late to fend off a furious Arkansas rally. He’s been one of the most consistent shooters in practice this year and is bound to break out of his slump soon – perhaps it’ll be this weekend against a team he nearly played for in a state where he earned All-American honors at the JUCO level.
Vols Looking for 2nd Road Win: The Vols sit at 10-5 (2-1 in the SEC) headed into Saturday’s matchup with Missouri and they will be looking to move to 2-0 on the road in conference play. Missouri is 6-2 at home this season with losses to Xavier (74-58) and University of Missouri – Kansas City (69-61). The Tigers did knock off LSU 74-67 in their last home game.
“Anytime you get a chance to go to places like North Carolina State and Mississippi State and go through the process with such a young, inexperienced team – all those experiences help. They just do,” Tyndall said. “That doesn’t make it a whole lot easier because life on the road in college basketball is extremely difficult. But I think our team is growing. We’re getting better. Our chemistry is really good. And hopefully it won’t be too much of an intimidating environment where we’re overwhelmed.”
Tyndall on Missouri: “They’re very similar to us,” Tyndall said of Missouri. “They don’t have a big physical front line, although they do have one junior college guy that would fit that mold. They have long, rangy front line players in the mold of Willie [Carmichael] and Tariq [Owens] that can block shots and can really run. Their bigs get their buckets, for the most part, on help ups and help overs on pick and rolls like Willie does.
“Their guards are playing very well with a lot of confidence. We beat them last year in the NIT and those young guards weren’t playing a whole lot. They had a pretty veteran backcourt – both guys went pro – and these young guys are playing well and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Scouting Missouri: The Vols worked on their full court press during Thursday’s scout walkthrough. Tennessee forced Arkansas into 18 turnovers on Tuesday and if they can replicate that against Missouri, they’ll have a good chance to pick up the victory.
Starting Five: If practice is any indication, Tennessee will stick with the same starting lineup against Missouri – Josh Richardson, Robert Hubbs, Devon Baulkman, Armani Moore and Derek Reese.
Mostella and Hubbs Aggressive: Detrick Mostella connected on multiple shots from beyond the arc during live portions of practice and Robert Hubbs, fresh off the best game of his career, displayed some aggressiveness and attacked the bucket on several occasions. That’s a great sign for a team that has struggled to find consistent scoring from players other than Josh Richardson.