Preview: Tennessee at No. 7 North Carolina

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    Photo Credit: Nick Davis/RTI

    Tennessee (4-3) vs. North Carolina (9-1)

    Sunday, Dec. 11, 5:00 p.m. ET

    Dean Smith Center (21,750) Chapel Hill, NC.

    TV: ESPN

    Probable North Carolina starters:

    G – Nate Britt, Sr. (6.1 ppg, 2.9 apg)

    G – Kenny Williams, So. (7.1 ppg)

    F/G – Justin Jackson, Jr. (16.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg)

    F – Isaiah Hicks, Sr. (13.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

    F – Kennedy Meeks, Sr. (12.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg)

    Probable Tennessee starters:

    G – Shembari Phillips, So. (10.3 ppg)

    G – Jordan Bowden, Fr. (8.9 ppg)

    G – Robert Hubbs III, Sr. (13.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg)

    F – Grant Williams, Fr. (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

    F – John Fulkerson, Fr. (5.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg)

    Setting the Table

    This is a tough matchup for Tennessee, primarily because it represents the first true road game for three of the Vols’ projected staters. And the Dean Smith Center is a tough place to play your first road game in college basketball.

    North Carolina is coming off a disappointing performance against Davidson, when they survived at home 83-74. The Vols are coming off their best offensive performances of the season, averaging 90 points per game against Chaminade, Georgia Tech and Presbyterian.

    The Tarheels are filled with veteran post players who should give Tennessee a lot of problems. The Vols’ John Fulkerson and Grant Williams have their work cut out for them in the paint, going up against two of the best low-post players in college basketball on the road. There are two common opponents between the Vols and Tarheels. After defeating Tennessee 82-69, Chattanooga was blown out 97-57 by UNC. No. 16 Wisconsin defeated Tennessee 72-64, but the Tarheels bested the Badgers 71-56 in the Maui Invitational Championship.

    Quotable

    “Gave them some time off, made practices shorter, so we could get a lot of studying done and some work down here for exams. But that’s no excuse because now we’re going to make all A’s. Because we certainly didn’t do much preparation for the game. I’m excited about what our grade point average is going to be.”

    — Roy Williams after his team’s narrow victory over Davidson

    3 Keys for Tennessee

    Contain Kennedy Meeks: UNC’s Kennedy Meeks is tough to stop for anyone around the country, but it’s going to be even harder for the undersized and inexperienced John Fulkerson. In order to escape Chapel Hill with a win, Meeks can’t score more than 20 points against the Vols. UT has to make someone else beat them. That starts with double teams on the low block and zone looks to confuse the North Carolina offense and deny Meeks the ball. After that, Tennessee has to hope that the Tarheels miss some open shots.

    Shoot 50% from 3-point range: This season, the Vols are shooting 36% from 3-point range, but that doesn’t tell the story of how bad Tennessee was from 3 at the beginning of the season. In order to give themselves a chance on the road, UT is going to have to light it up from behind the arc. Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner are two guys who can fill it up when they’ve got the hot hand from deep. Turner is coming off his game against Presbyterian where he made 7 3-pointers, and he’ll have to be close to that on Sunday.

    Keep Rebound Margin Close: Rick Barnes always says that the rebounding line dictates his decisions on who starts games. Against UNC, the Vols have to rebound the basketball. But they do so against one of the best rebounding teams in college basketball. Tennessee averages 36 rebounds per game, while UNC is averaging 46 per game. In order to keep Fulkerson and Williams fresh, Kyle Alexander and Lew Evans off the bench will have to get five rebounds each for Tennessee to have a chance.

    Prediction:

    Will: 85-63 UNC