Prediction Panel: No. 7 Tennessee at Ole Miss

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    The RTI team makes their picks for the No. 7 Vols’ match-up with Ole Miss this Wednesday. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their predictions for Wednesday night’s game.

    Nathanael’s Pick

    Tennessee’s on-ball defense has been very poor lately, and this game is going to test that aspect of UT’s game immensely.

    Ole Miss is one of the more guard-oriented teams the Vols have faced this season. Their three leading scorers are all guards, and Breein Tyree is one of the highest-scoring players in the SEC. His 18.4 points are third in the conference behind only Grant Williams (19.0) and Mississippi State’s Quinndary Weatherspoon (18.6).

    Not only that, but Ole Miss is good at knocking down threes. They’re sixth in the conference in three-point shooting percentage in SEC play, making 35.2 percent of their shots from distance against conference opponents. Tennessee has struggled to stop SEC teams from hitting threes against them.

    But for all the Rebels’ strengths, they have some glaring weaknesses, too. Tyree and senior guard Terrence Davis can score and score often, but they don’t have a lot of help usually. Ole Miss is also pretty sub-par at rebounding. They have a seven-footer on the roster in junior center Dominik Olejniczak, but he’s only averaging 3.3 rebounds per game. In fact, the Rebels’ leading rebounder is Davis, who measures in at 6-foot-4. He’s averaging 5.9 rebounds a game.

    To me, this game could either be exactly what Tennessee needs or could be a disaster for them. I don’t really see it being much in between. I think either the Vols win this game by at least eight points, or they lose by a couple possessions and drop back-to-back games for the first time this season.

    The Vols did play better overall against LSU on Saturday, and I think getting some more rest between this past weekend’s game till now will help. I thought Tennessee got their physicality back against LSU, and that could give Ole Miss a lot of problems.

    This is a very tough game for the Vols, especially with their rematch against Kentucky looming on Saturday. But when it’s all said and done, I think Tennessee gets the win.

    Pick: Tennessee, 81-71

    MVP: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee forward

    To me, this just feels like a game where Admiral Schofield can feast. He got back on track over the weekend against LSU and started playing like he once was, and it helped him get 27 points and nine rebounds. I don’t think Ole Miss has the right combo of defenders to keep Schofield from getting 20 points in this one. It was tough for me to choose between him or Grant Williams, but I ultimately sided with Admiral.

    Ben’s Pick

    In some ways, I don’t believe Ole Miss is a good match-up for Tennessee. But honestly, it simply depends on which Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons, and Admiral Schofield the Vols get. And not on the offensive end, but the defensive end.

    Ole Miss has three guards – Terrence Davis, Breein Tyree, and Davontae Shuler – that have the ability to terrorize Tennessee if the Vols struggle to defend the basketball the way they did against LSU.

    Against the Tigers, Turner was relentlessly beat off the dribble by Ja’Vonte Smart. Tyree and Davis have that same ability. They’re also excellent scorers, both at the rim and out on the perimeter. If Turner struggles with his on-ball defense against the Rebels, it’ll be a game that comes down to the wire.

    Turner wasn’t the only one that struggled to defend and keep his man in front of him. Bowden did, Pons did, and so did Schofield at times. If that trend continues, it won’t bode well for Tennessee. I still think UT wins, as it still almost beat LSU with the same issues, but that will be the difference in whether it’s a 10-point win or a one-possession game.

    Pick: Tennessee, 79-73

    MVP: Grant Williams, Tennessee forward

    The reason I’m still confident in Tennessee’s ability to win the game even if it struggles to defend the basketball is because tonight’s match-up for Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander is very advantageous.

    Ole Miss is guard-heavy, and as a result, it lacks production in the post. Bruce Stevens and KJ Buffen play the majority of the post minutes and should be matched up on Williams. The two combine to score 14 points per game, whereas Williams leads the SEC in scoring at 19.0 points per game.

    Williams hasn’t had a monster game in quite some time, but tonight feels as if it is going to be one.