Tennessee (9-8, 2-3 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (10-7, 2-3 SEC)
Wednesday, Jan. 20, 9:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Probable Vanderbilt Starters
G-Wade Baldwin IV, 6-3, 194, SO (14.4 ppg, 4.5 apg)
G-Riley LaChance, 6-2, 183, SO (10.1 ppg, .446 3FG%)
F-Jeff Roberson, 6-6, 220, SO (9.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
F-Luke Kornet, 7-1, 240, JR, (9.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
F-Damian Jones, 7-0, 245, JR, (13.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, SR (22.4 ppg, 3.9 apg)
G-Detrick Mostella, 6-1, 175, SO (8.4 ppg, .357 3FG%)
G-Devon Baulkman 6-4, 200, SR (10.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
G-Robert Hubbs III, 6-4, 207, JR (12.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
G/F-Admiral Schofield, 6-5, 240, FR (7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Setting the Table
Tennessee returns to Thompson-Boling Arena on a late, snowy evening in Knoxville to take on a Vanderbilt team that started the season with aspirations of a deep NCAA tournament run, but is now scrambling a bit after losing its first three conference games of the season. The Commodores have since bounced back with wins over Auburn and Alabama, but this hasn’t been the team that the Commodores likely expected thus far.
The Vols are coming off their first road win of the season, an 80-75 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday. UT has played exceptionally well at home this year – dropping just one game to a talented Texas A&M team that it held a significant lead on before collapsing down the stretch.
Size is the biggest storyline in this one. The Commodores are the largest team in the SEC, while the Vols are the smallest. UT might be even smaller on Wednesday, possibly going with another true guard in Detrick Mostella over forward Armani Moore, who is still day-to-day with an ankle injury. Vanderbilt will counter with a starting lineup with two 7-foot+ players and the biggest roster in the league.
“The way I dress should never be an issue. I just don’t want it to be about me. I don’t want this program to be about me. I want it to be about the University of Tennessee and the players. Believe me, I have great reverence for the past – coaches, the players that have come before our players. I don’t think I should be the billboard for the University of Tennessee. I think it’s a great university. You look at what Chris Lofton did, Dale Ellis, Ernie and Bernie – there are great stories about players that should be told more so than what I wear or don’t wear.”
– Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes discussing if he’ll wear the orange blazer vs. Vanderbilt or not
3 keys for the Vols
1. Keep up the 3-point shooting: The Vols aren’t going to be able to get to the bucket with consistency against Vandy’s size, so 3-point shooting will be key. Tennessee will look to carry its hot-shooting performance from 3-point territory into Wednesday night after the Vols hit 43% from beyond the arc at Mississippi State. Vanderbilt has been good at defending the 3-ball this year, allowing opponents to shoot just 27.5% behind the arc. The Vols will need to be closer to their MSU performance in terms of percentage to win this one.
2. Swarm for rebounds: Bigger hasn’t necessarily been better when it comes to rebounding for these teams. The Vols, even with their small-ball look, actually have a slight edge in rebounding on the season over the Commodores. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, however. Tennessee will have to throw multiple players to the glass on every possession to compete with Vandy’s size if it wants to come out on top in this area. That’s something UT has done well under Rick Barnes, but it will be an ever larger challenge than normal on Wednesday night.
3. Mostella’s productivity : After an up-and-down freshman season and a rocky start to 2015-16, UT guard Detrick Mostella is finally finding some consistency. He’s scored in double-figures in seven of his last eight games and has seen his point production go up in the last four games, culminating with a career-high 24 points at MSU over the weekend. “Just confidence, a lot of confidence,” Mostella said of what’s changed for him. “Back when I was in a hole, coach was talking in the locker room, and he was like, ‘There’s a lot of people on our team stealing money.’ So I started thinking, ‘Am I stealing money?’ Because he was saying we are on scholarship, so we should do things much harder. So I was like, ‘Am I stealing money?’ So I started questioning myself, questioning myself… I asked him one day and he was like, ‘You’ve been stealing money a little bit.’ So then it just gave me the opportunity to take it to another level and I’ve felt like I’ve done that the past couple games.”
Daniel: Vanderbilt 76-73
Nathanael: Vanderbilt 87-81