What to Know: No. 1 Tennessee vs. Missouri

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    (Photo via Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star)

    For the second time this season, Tennessee will take on Missouri in basketball. And for the first time since 2014, Cuonzo Martin will be back in Knoxville.

    The No. 1 Vols (20-1, 8-0 SEC) host the Tigers (11-9, 2-6 SEC) for the seventh time ever, and Tennessee will look to replicate the result from the last time these two teams met. Tennessee — then the No. 3 team in the country — took Missouri’s best shot on the road in Columbia back on January 8th, but the Tigers couldn’t keep up in the second half, and Tennessee prevailed 87-63.

    Since then, Tennessee has won all six of their SEC games they’ve played in the meantime, and Missouri has struggled to win just two of the seven they’ve played.

    The Tigers have defeated Texas A&M on the road and are coming off a 77-67 victory over Vanderbilt at home on Saturday. But they’ve lost their other six SEC games, and often it hasn’t been very close.

    Five of Missouri’s six SEC losses have come by double digits. The only one that didn’t was one of the Tigers’ more embarrassing losses of the season.

    Missouri led 70-56 over LSU with 2:14 left in the game back on January 26th. But LSU would storm back, and Missouri would collapse as LSU went on a 15-1 run over the final two-plus minutes to force overtime. LSU would go on to defeat Missouri 86-80 in overtime.

    The Tigers also got walloped by Auburn a week ago, losing 92-58 on the road to Bruce Pearl’s Tigers.

    Tennessee set a program record on Saturday with their 16th-straight victory of the season after downing Texas A&M 93-76 on the road. The Vols have won all but two of their SEC games this season by double digits.

    Here’s everything you need to know when the Vols take on Missouri in Knoxville on Tuesday night.

    Deadly from Distance

    Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers aren’t the best offensive team in the SEC, but they can hit a lot of shots from three. And Tennessee has really, really struggled with defending that lately.

    Missouri has made 37.6 percent of their threes as a team this season. That percentage is inside the top-50 in all of college basketball. The Tigers don’t generally take a lot of three-pointers, only averaging 22.8 three-pointers attempted per game this season. But when they do take them, they tend to make them at a high clip.

    Senior Jordan Geist and sophomore Mark Smith have been the most proficient three-point shooters for the Tigers. Geist has attempted 114 threes and has made 36 percent of them this season, and Smith has shot 101 threes and has connected on 47.5 percent of them.

    And with the way the Vols have been defending the three lately, they need to pay extra attention to Missouri’s sharp-shooters.

    Over the last seven games, teams have made 39.4 percent of their threes against Tennessee. And dating back to the Vols’ last match-up with Missouri, Tennessee has given up eight or more three-pointers to seven of their last eight opponents.

    The last time these two teams played, Missouri only shot 36.8 percent from the floor overall, but they were 8-of-22 (36.4 percent) from three.

    Turning it Over

    Aside from their ability to hit threes, Missouri’s offense isn’t very effective or efficient.

    In conference play, the Tigers rank 10th or worse in field goal percentage (10th), total rebounds (10th), offensive rebounds (13th), assists (12th), and points per game (12th).

    But by far the one area they’re the worst in is their ability to keep the ball in their possession.

    Missouri has turned the ball over 128 times in SEC play this season. No other team has more turnovers in conference games this season. The Tigers are averaging 16 turnovers a game, and they’re only forcing 12 turnovers per contest from SEC opponents.

    The Tigers’ biggest offenders this season are big man Jeremiah Tilmon (2.7 turnovers per game), Jordan Geist (2.2 per game), and Xavier Pinson (2.1 per game).

    Conversely, Tennessee has given the ball away the fewest times among SEC teams in conference play, only turning it over 85 times in eight games.

    The last time the Vols and Tigers played, Tennessee won the turnover battle 14-to-11.

    Continue the Streaks

    Tennessee has several streaks at play when they take on Missouri on Tuesday night.

    The Vols will look to extend their program-record 16-game winning streak to 17 games with a win over the Tigers. A win would also push Tennessee’s winning streak inside Thompson-Boling Arena to 21 games. That would break a tie the Vols currently hold with three other streaks for sole possession of the fourth-longest winning streak at home. Tennessee has won 20-straight games at home three other times besides this season (from 1922-24, from 1929-1931, and from 1970-72).

    If the Vols defeat Missouri, it will mark their third-straight win over the Tigers and would give them their longest winning streak over Missouri in the series. A win would also give UT their fifth-straight win over the Tigers in Knoxville.

    Cuonzo’s Return

    For the first time since he was the head coach of the Vols, Cuonzo Martin will be back in Knoxville on Tuesday.

    Oddly enough, Martin’s last game he coached in Knoxville was against Missouri back on March 8th, 2014. He helped coach the Vols to a 72-45 victory that game, ending the regular season with a victory and improving Tennessee’s record to 20-11. They would go on to defeat South Carolina in the SEC Tournament before losing to Florida in the next round. The Vols would earn one of the last four at-large berths into the NCAA Tournament in March, and Tennessee wound up making it to the Sweet Sixteen that year.

    With Tennessee’s victory earlier this season, Martin fell to 1-1 against his old school. He won his first game against them last season, winning 59-55 in Columbia.

    The last time a former Tennessee head coach returned to Knoxville for the first time as an opponent, the Vols handed him a loss. Bruce Pearl made the return trip to UT back on January 31st, 2015 as head coach of Auburn, and the Vols defeated his Tigers by a score of 71-63.



    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.