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What to Know: No. 3 Tennessee vs. Georgia

(Photo via Ryan Cameron)

The last time Tennessee played Georgia in basketball, the Vols won a share of the SEC regular season title. This time, the two teams will be tipping off their SEC schedules.

The No. 3 Vols (11-1) will host the Bulldogs (8-4) on Saturday as both schools enter conference play. Tennessee owns a 95-60 all-time edge over Georgia, and they’re 58-15 against the Bulldogs in Knoxville.

Tennessee enters Saturday’s contest riding a seven-game winning streak and ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll. Georgia, meanwhile, has won three-straight games after falling to a ranked Arizona State team at home back in mid-December. The Bulldogs are led by first-year head coach Tom Crean. Crean coached at Indiana as their head coach from 2008 to 2017 and was Marquette’s head coach from 1999-2008. He’s won 364 of the 599 games he’s coached.

Georgia has lost both games they’ve played against ranked opponents so far this season. They fell to No. 16 Clemson by a score of 64-49 and lost 76-74 to No. 20 Arizona State.

If the Vols can defeat the Bulldogs on Saturday, it will mark their 17th-straight victory in Thompson-Boling Arena. That would be the longest such streak in the Rick Barnes era, and it would happen in front of a likely sold out crowd.

Here’s everything you need to know when No. 3 Tennessee takes the court against Georgia on Saturday.

Bulldogs Can Bully

Georgia isn’t as good of a defensive team as the Vols, but they have good size in the paint and have stopped tams from shooting a high clip for most of this season.

The Bulldogs have blocked 75 shots this season, the 13th-most blocks in all of Division I basketball. Sophomore Nicolas Claxton leads the way with 3.1 blocks per game. The 6-foot-11 forward is also the team’s leading rebounding, hauling in 10.2 rebounds per game while also scoring 13.3 points. He even leads the team in assists, dishing out 2.5 per contest.

Because they block a lot of shots, Georgia is also holding teams to a pretty low field goal percentage as well. Teams are only shooting 38 percent against the Bulldogs on the season. The Vols only barely have them beat in that regard, holding teams to a 37.7 percent shooting percentage.

Teams are scoring just 70.5 points per game against Georgia, and Tennessee is holding opponents to 66.4 points a game. So expect a low-scoring, defense-heavy affair on Saturday.

These Dawgs Can Shoot

The Bulldogs are a pretty good defensive team, and they’ve been just about as good when it comes to shooting the ball as they have defending it.

Georgia is hitting 47.8 percent as a team, which ranks 59th among the 300-plus Division I schools in basketball. They’re also making 73.8 percent of their free throws, which is good for 64th in the country.

Rayshaun Hammonds leads the Bulldogs with 15 points per game, and he’s followed closely by Claxton’s 13.3 points per contest. Three other Bulldogs are averaging at least 8.2 points a game. Both Hammonds and junior guard Tyree Crump are hitting over 40 percent of their threes to start the season.

Georgia is scoring 79.2 points per game as a team, and they’ve topped 80 or more points six times in their 12 games.

But They’re Sloppy Too

Though Georgia boasts a pretty good defense and an offense that can shoot well, they’ve struggled with consistency and not turning the ball over.

Georgia has turned the ball over a whopping 200 times this season, which means they’re averaging 16.7 turnovers per game. For comparison, the Vols are averaging just 11.7 turnovers each game. The Bulldogs don’t have a strong point guard like the Vols do, and it shows. As a team, they’re averaging more turnovers than they are assists. Georgia has only assisted on 181 of their made field goals this year.

Start on the Right Foot

Two of the last three seasons, the Vols have dropped their SEC opener. They can’t afford to do that again this season if they want to carry their momentum forward and remain the team to beat in the SEC.

Last season, Tennessee opened SEC play with a 95-93 loss in overtime to Arkansas and would then go on to lose their next SEC game at home against Auburn. In 2017, the Vols went on the road and defeated Texas A&M 73-63, but the previous year they started out SEC play with an 83-77 loss to Auburn on the road.

Tennessee proved last year that a loss to start the SEC schedule isn’t a death blow, but it would squash a lot of the momentum the Vols have picked up to start this season and would put a damper on fans’ moods.

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