Coming into the 2018 season, the Tennessee basketball team was not expected to achieve a lot. They were picked to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC and were not predicted to make the NCAA tournament.
But now the Vols currently sit at 20-7 overall, are second place in the SEC, and are a projected 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. To say they have exceeded expectations so far is an understatement.
With the end of the regular season in sight, Tennessee looks to finish their season with three more victories and be in good position to make a run in the SEC tournament. The Vols’ final three games come at Ole Miss, at Mississippi State, and at home against Georgia for senior day.
For Rick Barnes and Tennessee to finish their regular season 3-0, they will have to play some of their best basketball, which they haven’t been doing as of late. It will not be an easy task, but there are a few key factors that the Vols need to do to finish the regular season on a high note.
Ole Miss: Play your game
Most would say that Tennessee’s game at Ole Miss will be their easiest of the final three games. The Rebels have had an abysmal season so far and don’t look to be turning things around anytime soon. Their head coach of 12 years, Andy Kennedy, stepped down from his position on Feb. 18 due to alleged external pressures.
For Tennessee to win in Oxford, they will simply need to play their brand of basketball. When the Vols are at the top of their game, there are very few teams that can beat them. If Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield can keep their run of dominance going, the Vols should have no problem bringing home a win.
Tennessee beat the Rebels 94-61 on Feb. 3 in Knoxville in a game dominated by Lamonte Turner and Grant Williams. Both players had 17 points in that contest. As long as the Vols stay focused and play the way they did in the first meeting, they will have no problem sweeping the season series. The Rebels host Tennessee on Feb. 24th in Oxford at 1 pm Eastern.
Mississippi State: Block out the crowd noise, guard contribution
Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss. is known to be one the toughest atmospheres to play in in the SEC. The Hail State faithful have helped their Bulldogs earn a 17-1 record at home with their only loss coming on Jan. 13 at the hands of Auburn.
For Tennessee to escape Starkville with a win, they will have to block out the noise as best as they can. While this is easier said than done, Tennessee must learn to play under severe pressure not only from their opponents on the floor, but also their opponents in the stands.
Another key for Tennessee to earn a win against the Bulldogs is for their guard play to step up and provide an outside attack that they have been missing in recent games. Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, James Daniel III, and Lamonte Turner all need to have much better overall games as a whole than what they’ve done recently.
Three-point contribution can help free up Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield inside. Williams and Schofield are the bread and butter of the Tennessee offense, and taking pressure off on the two big men can help their personal and team productivity. Mississippi State hosts Tennessee on Feb. 27th at 7 pm Eastern.
Georgia: Shut down Maten, Ogbeide early
In the first meeting with the Vols this season, Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide both had their way in scoring and rebounding. Maten had 19 points and 5 rebounds while Ogbeide had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Both players were big factors in Georgia’s 73-62 victory over Tennessee.
If Tennessee wants to end their regular season with a win on senior day, they will need to shut down Maten and Ogbeide and shut them down early. The two Bulldogs had such success in the first game of the series due to their dominant play early in the game. Tennessee was unable to throw the two Bulldogs off rhythm early, and they paid for it in the end.
The two big men for Georgia will once again be the focus of the Bulldog offense when they come to Knoxville. Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander will have to play some of the best defense they have played all season to shut down the Georgia inside attack. Both Williams and Alexander are capable of such play but will need to play much better on senior day than they did the last time these two teams met.
Playing in Knoxville will be a plus for the Vols, but it will not be enough to pull out a win. Tennessee needs a full team effort to defeat Georgia and end their five-game losing streak against them. Tennessee hosts Georgia on March 3rd at 6 pm.