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What to Know: No. 7 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Gonzaga

(Photo via Sports Illustrated)

On Sunday, No. 7 Tennessee (6-1) takes on No. 1 Gonzaga (9-0) at 3 PM Eastern on a neutral court in Phoenix. The two teams have faced-off five times previously, and the Vols have only won one of those contests.

But this will mark the first time both squads have played each other as top-10 teams.

The only other time the Vols and Bulldogs played each other when both teams were ranked came back in 2008 when No. 9 Gonzaga beat No. 12 Tennessee 83-74 in Orlando in late November.

This Sunday’s match-up is another early season contest between the two teams, but it’s vitally important for both squads as they look to solidify their chemistry and figure out the identities of their teams.

The Vols have lost to the only other ranked team they’ve played this season, losing 87-81 to No. 2 Kansas in overtime in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. The Zags have only played one other ranked team prior to Sunday’s contest, and they toppled then-No. 1 Duke 89-87 in Maui.

Tennessee forward Grant Williams has scored 20 or more points in four of the Vols’ seven contests this season, and he’s averaging a career-high 20.4 points per game through seven games. Gonzaga is led by Japanese transfer Rui Hachimura, who is averaging 22.3 points a game after nine games.

Mark Few has been at Gonzaga since 1999, and he’s had a massive amount of success with the Zags over the last 20 years. But this might be his most talented team yet, and that’s saying something considering he’s led Gonzaga to eight Sweet Sixteens, two Elight Eights, and a National Championship Game appearance.

Here’s everything you need to know when the Vols take on No. 1 Gonzaga on Sunday over in Phoenix.

They Can Score. A Lot.

The Zags have one of the most prolific offenses in college basketball this season. Gonzaga is averaging 96.4 points per game, which is the second-highest average in Division I college basketball. They’re also shooting 53.0 percent from the field as a team, which is also the second-best percentage in the country.

The Bulldogs have six players averaging over eight points, so they can get points from just about anyone on their roster at any given time. Rui Hachimura is averaging 22.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while Zach Norvell Jr. is averaging 18.1 points and 3.6 assists.

Gonzaga has scored 100 points or more in four of their nine games this season, and they’ve yet to score less than 81 points in a single game to start this season. For contrast, though, the Vols have held five of their seven opponents to 67 points or less so far this season. The Vols are also holding opponents to just 35.5 percent shooting from the field, which is the fourth-best shooting defense in college basketball.

High Efficiency 

Not only do the Bulldogs score at a high volume, but they do it very efficiently. Gonzaga has totaled 181 assists on the season, and that’s the third-highest assist total in Division I. They rank inside the top-45 in the country in three-point shooting, two-point shooting, overall field goal percentage, and free throw percentage.

The efficient Gonzaga offense is led by one of the most productive point guards in the country. Senior guard Josh Perkins is averaging 8.3 assists per game through nine games this year, and he’s only averaging 2.1 turnovers a game as well. He has a superb ability to set up his teammates with good shots, and Gonzaga’s offense does a good job of creating space and allowing him to find open targets time and time again.

Gonzaga also rebounds well despite not being a particularly tall team. They’re 50th in the country in total rebounds, and they’re averaging 40.9 rebounds per game as a team.

Lots of Experience

Typically, Gonzaga’s teams are made up of very experienced players who have been in Mark Few’s system for years. And that’s the case again this year.

The Zags start a senior, two juniors, and two sophomores. They only usually play two players off the bench, and that’s senior forward/guard Jeremy Jones and freshman forward Filip Petrusev. Gonzaga doesn’t start a player over 6-foot-8, but Petrusev provides the height when he comes of the bench. He measures in at 6-foot-11, 225 pounds.

Hachimura and Norvell Jr. usually lead the Zags in scoring, but Brandon Clarke is more than capable of scoring and provides a lot of good defense in the paint too. The 6-foot-7 forward averages 16.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per contest.

Top-Ranked History

Tennessee doesn’t have a great history when taking on the No. 1 team in the country.

The Vols haven’t played the top-ranked team in the country since 2015 when they lost to No. 1 Kentucky 66-48. Tennessee hasn’t beaten a No. 1 ranked team since they took down Kansas in Knoxville in 2010 with a 76-68 victory.

All-time, the Vols are just 4-13 against the No. 1 team in the country. Besides that win against Kansas in 2010, they also toppled top-ranked Memphis in 2008, No. 1 South Carolina in 1969, and No. 1 Kentucky in 1966.

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