Preview: Tennessee vs. Mississippi State

    by -

    Robert Hubbs-1-5

    Tennessee (13-7) vs. Mississippi State (10-11)

    Tuesday, Feb. 3rd, 7:02 p.m. ET

    Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, TN

    TV: SEC Network

    Probable Mississippi State Starters

    G-I.J. Ready, 5-11, 170, SO (8.7 ppg, 2.3 apg)

    G-Craig Sword, 6-3, 196, JR (7.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg)

    G-Travis Daniels, 6-8, 219, JR (6.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

    F-Roquez Johnson, 6-7, 210, SR (10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

    F-Gavin Ware, 6-9, 260, JR (9.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

    Probable Tennessee Starters

    G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 200, SR (15.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg)

    G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, JR (11.0 ppg, .422 3FG%)

    G-Robert Hubbs, 6-6, 206, SO (6.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg)

    F-Armani Moore, 6-5, 215, JR (10.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg)

    F-Derek Reese, 6-8, 220, JR, (5.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

    Setting the Table 

    Could this be a potential trap game for the Vols? Tennessee is coming off a hard fought win over Auburn in front of a packed house on Saturday and Mississippi State is a team the Vols handled on the road to open conference play.

    But this isn’t the same Bulldog team the Vols faced in January – they’re coming off a home win over LSU and they have a win at Auburn and a home win over Vanderbilt on their resume. They’ve been competitive in the games they’ve lost, too. Each of their last three losses came by two possessions. 

    The Vols are 9-3 in their last 12 games while the Bulldogs are 3-2 in their last five outings. Tennessee is 5-3 in SEC play and, with a win, will reach the halfway point in the conference schedule with a 6-3 record.

    Mississippi State has the lowest RPI in the conference (No. 192) while the Volunteers sit at No. 54 in the NCAA’s latest official rankings. The Bulldogs are 1-5 on the road this season and the Vols are 9-2 at home.

    Tennessee can’t afford a bad home loss and remain in bubble territory. They need to take care of business against a team they should beat to keep improving their tournament standing.

    Quotable

    “When I am watching tape now compared to earlier in the year, they seem to be playing faster. I don’t mean shooting it quicker, their team just seems to be more aggressive. Guys are driving the ball. They don’t look reluctant or hesitant to make mistakes. It just looks like they are playing with a lot of confidence and kind of free flowing, if you will. They have been good defensively all year. That has stayed consistent. But, offensively, they look like they are playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

    – Tennessee Head Coach Donnie Tyndall on Mississippi State

    Injuries

    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, had surgery on his injured shoulder and will miss the remainder of the season.

    3 keys for the Vols

    1. Fouls, Fouls, Fouls: In Tennessee’s last meeting with Mississippi State, the Vols committed 32 fouls which led to 44 free throw attempts for the Bulldogs. The Vols comfortably won that game, in part, because Mississippi State simply wasn’t playing well offensively at the time. As Tyndall mentioned on Monday, the Bulldogs are a much better offensive team right now. Tennessee can’t afford to give the improved Bulldogs a massive free throw advantage on Tuesday night. 

    2. Keep Punter Rolling: Vol shooting guard Kevin Punter went through a 1-15 shooting slump against Arkansas and Alabama in mid-January, since then he’s averaging 13.8 points per game and is shooting 52% from 3-point range. Consistent scoring from Punter really takes pressure off Richardson and opens up the offense. Mississippi State may not have enough fire power to overcome 15 to 17 points from Punter. 

    3. Rebounds: The Vols outrebounded the Bulldogs by 16 in Starkville – a key stat in their 61-47 victory. Mississippi State has been more than solid on the glass this year. They have a +4.6 rebounding margin – the Vols are +1.2 in the same category. After getting killed on the boards early in the season, Tennessee has improved in that area. The Vols owned a +8 rebounding margin against Auburn on Saturday. A similar effort against the Bulldogs should result in a comfortable win.

    Predictions

    KenPom.com: Tennessee 65-56
    Daniel: Tennessee 70-60
    Houston: Tennessee 73-65
    Reed: Tennessee 68-62