On Tuesday night, two of the hottest teams in the SEC square-off.
No. 3 Tennessee (12-1, 1-0 SEC) will make their first SEC road trip of the season when they play Missouri (9-3, 0-0 SEC) on Tuesday night. The Vols are riding an eight-game winning streak, and Missouri has won six games in a row heading into Tuesday night’s match-up. Tennessee is coming off an absolute beatdown against Georgia on Saturday, throttling the Bulldogs 96-50. That win was UT’s second-largest margin of victory over an SEC opponent in school history.
Missouri, meanwhile, just beat Morehead state 75-61 and didn’t lose in the whole month of December. The Tigers haven’t played since December 29th, meaning they’ve had nine days off since their last game.
The Tigers beat Tennessee last season, as former UT head coach Cuonzo Martin got the victory over his former school in his first game against them since he left Tennessee for California after the 2013-14 season. Tennessee is just 4-3 against Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC.
The Vols have only played one true road game this season, and they won that contest, downing Memphis by a score of 102-92. Missouri has lost their only game this season against a ranked opponent, falling to Kansas State 82-67.
Here’s everything you need to know when No. 3 Tennessee takes on Missouri on the road on Tuesday night.
Beware of the Three
Missouri doesn’t score a lot of points, and they actually don’t shoot the ball well overall. But there’s one thing they do exceptionally well, and that’s hit three-pointers.
The Tigers only average 69.1 points per game and shoot just 43.8 percent as a team, including only 47.1 percent of their two-point shots. But Missouri leads the SEC in three-point shooting, hitting 39.3 percent of their threes this season. And it’s not just one player that carries Missouri in that regard.
Seven different Tiger players are making at least 36 percent of their threes this season. Sophomore guard Mark Smith is the most deadly sharpshooter on the team, hitting 46.2 percent of his threes this season. Senior Kevin Puryear is making 40 percent of his threes.
Missouri averages just about 23 three-point attempts per game, so they’ll shoot a lot of threes. Tennessee has held opponents to just a 28.2 shooting percentage from three this season, including holding Georgia to just 1-of-20 from three in their last game.
Making it Ugly
If there’s one thing Vol fans know about Cuonzo Martin-led teams, it’s that they like to make games ugly. And that’s true this season for the Tigers just like it was last year.
According to Ken Pomeroy’s analysis, Missouri has one of the slowest tempos in all of college basketball. There are just over 350 teams in Division I college basketball. The Tigers’ pace of play ranks 327th in the country according to Pomeroy.
Because of how they play, teams don’t get too many chances against the Tigers. They’ve allowed the fewest field goal attempts in all of college basketball (649), and teams are only averaging 63.2 points per game against the Tigers this season. Teams are shooting just 42.1 percent from the floor against Missouri.
Tennessee has played a few teams ranked in the 150s in tempo according to Ken Pomeroy, but they haven’t played a team this season who slows it down like the Tigers. The Vols come into Tuesday’s game averaging 86.3 points per game this season and have scored an average of 92 points a game over the last five games.
Not Very Efficient
The Tigers like to slow it down and muddy up a game, but otherwise they aren’t a very efficient team.
Missouri is averaging just 11.3 assists per game, one of the worst averages in college basketball. They’re also one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. Despite having 6-foot-10 sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon and savvy 6-foot-7 senior Kevin Puryear, the Tigers are only averaging 35.6 rebounds per game as a team.
Martin’s Tigers also don’t force a lot of turnovers on defense despite holding teams to low shooting percentages and point totals. Missouri has only taken the ball away 159 times all season, giving them an average of just 13.3 turnovers forced per game. The Vols are only averaging 11.5 turnovers a game as a team this season.
Missouri doesn’t block shots either. They only have 23 blocks all season. Tennessee’s Kyle Alexander himself has 24 this season.
The Tigers have only scored 80 points once this season, and as mentioned above, they don’t shoot well as a team aside from making their threes. They rank 300th in college basketball in two-point shooting percentage. They also don’t get to the free throw line very much, and they only hit 69 percent of their free throws when they do go to the charity stripe.
Trying to Reverse a Trend
Tennessee hasn’t been good in Columbia, Missouri. At all.
The Vols are 1-5 all-time against Missouri on the road, with their only win in Columbia coming back on January 17th of 2015. Otherwise, Tennessee has lost every other game they’ve played on the road against the Tigers.
Tennessee’s series against Missouri has been very home team-centric. The two teams have played each other every year since Missouri joined the SEC, and they played six times between 1961-1985. In those 13 all-time meetings, the home team has won nine times.