What to Know: No. 7 Tennessee at Ole Miss

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    (Photo via USA Today Sports)

    Tennessee will stay on the road for their mid-week game this week after suffering a tough loss to LSU on the road on Saturday.

    The No. 7 Vols (24-3, 12-2 SEC) will go to Oxford, Mississippi to take on Ole Miss (19-8, 9-5 SEC) on Wednesday night. The game will mark the first time the two teams have met this season and will be their first meeting since a February 24th match-up in Oxford last season.

    Ole Miss is looking to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 this season, and they’re in a good spot. In their first year under head coach Kermit Davis, the Rebels are currently in the 68-team field according to most NCAA Tournament projections. A win over Tennessee would give them a signature win as a feather in their cap.

    Tennessee will look to keep the Rebels from getting that victory, though.

    The Vols come into Wednesday’s game having lost two of their last three contests after winning 19-straight games before their 86-69 loss to Kentucky two Saturdays ago. After losing to LSU in overtime on this past Saturday, the Vols were a three-way tie atop the SEC standings before Tuesday night’s games.

    Tennessee is 73-44 all-time against Ole Miss, and they’ve won three-straight games against the Rebels. The Vols beat Ole Miss twice last season, once in Knoxville and again in Oxford. Tennessee will be looking to earn their first back-to-back victories in Oxford since the Vols won there in 1993 then beat Ole Miss again on their home court when they played there next in 1995.

    Here are the biggest things to know when No. 7 Tennessee takes on Ole Miss on Wednesday night.

    Back Down to Earth

    After winning 10-straight games, including their first three SEC games, the Rebels have come back down to Earth.

    Ole Miss started the season with a 13-2 record and won their first three conference games, including victories over then-No. 11 Auburn and then-No. 14 Mississippi State on the road. That beginning to the season and those two wins over ranked opponents got Ole Miss ranked inside the top 25 of the AP Poll.

    Since that start, though, Ole Miss has dropped off.

    The Rebels lost to LSU at home after their road win over Mississippi State, then they beat Arkansas at home. After that win over the Razorbacks, Ole Miss would go on to lose four-straight games. After that four-game losing streak, Ole Miss would go on a four-game winning streak. That streak was ended when they lost to South Carolina on the road last week, but they got back in the win column with a narrow 72-71 victory over Georgia at home on Saturday.

    Tennessee has also fallen back to Earth after a hot start to the season. The Vols were 23-1 and had won 19-straight games before losing to Kentucky a week and a half ago. That loss was followed up by a win over Vanderbilt at home, and then the Vols lost to LSU this past weekend on the road.

    Two Dynamic Duos

    You won’t find two higher-scoring duos in the SEC than what you’ll see on the court on Wednesday night.

    Tennessee and Ole Miss have the two pairs of highest-scoring teammates in the SEC. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield of the Vols have combined to score 35.9 points per game this season, which is the highest-scoring duo of any teammates in the SEC. Ole Miss has the second-highest-scoring duo with Breein Tyree and Terence Davis. Those two are scoring a combined 33.9 points per game.

    Tyree, a junior guard, is averaging 18.3 points per game and is shooting 40 percent from three. Davis, a senior guard, is averaging 15.6 points a game and leads the Rebels in both assists per game (3.4) and rebounds per game (5.9) despite only measuring in at around 6-foot-4.

    Williams leads the SEC in points per game, scoring 19 points a contest. He also leads the Vols in rebounds per game (7.6) and steals per game (1.1). Admiral Schofield is averaging 16.9 points per contest.

    The difference between the two teams, though, is that Williams and Schofield have a lot more help than Tyree and Davis.

    Three other Vols average double-digit scoring this season. Jordan Bone (13.2), Lamonte Turner (11.0), and Jordan Bowden (10.6) all average over 10 points a game. Ole Miss, meanwhile, doesn’t have any other player averaging double figures besides Tyree and Davis. Devontae Shuler is the closest, averaging 9.8 points per game. Blake Hinson (8.4) and Bruce Stevens (8.0) both average over eight points per game.

    Be. Aggressive. 

    Tennessee has gotten away from what’s made them successful on offense as of late: Working their offense through the paint.

    Part of the Vols’ issues have been getting a poor whistle over their last few games, but officials aren’t all to blame; Tennessee hasn’t been as aggressive and hasn’t attacked the paint as much lately, either.

    After Grant Williams set multiple records from the free throw line against Vanderbilt, the Vols haven’t gotten to the charity stripe as often as a team, and neither has Williams. Including that 88-83 overtime win on January 23rd against the Commodores, Tennessee was averaging 23.9 free throw attempts per game in their first 18 games of the season. In the nine games since, the Vols are averaging just 15.1 attempts from the free throw line.

    In that same nine-game span, Williams is averaging just 5.6 free throw attempts after averaging 8.3 free throw attempts a game in his first 18 games played.

    Not only that, but the Vols have been attempting more three-pointers as of late.

    Over their last 10 games, Tennessee is averaging 19.2 three-point attempts per game. The Vols were averaging 18.8 threes a game in their previous 17 games. That may not seem like a huge jump, but consider this as well: In Tennessee’s first 17 games, they attempted 20 or more threes in a game seven times. Over their last 10 contests, the Vols have shot 20 or more three-pointers in a game six different times, including each of their last four games.

    Plus, the Vols haven’t exactly been hot from three lately either.

    Tennessee has made 35.4 percent of their threes over their last 10 games. That includes hitting just 30.9 percent from three in their last three contests. In their first 17 games, the Vols were shooting 36.3 percent from three. So not only are they attempting more threes, but they’re hitting fewer of them as well.

    Dominate the Boards, Better On-Ball Defense

    Ole Miss is one of the more guard-oriented teams in the SEC. They start a seven-footer in Dominik Olejniczak, but aside from him they don’t regularly play anyone over 6-foot-8. And even with Olejniczak starting and playing nearly 20 minutes a game, the Rebels are pretty bad at rebounding the ball.

    Right now, 6-foot-4 guard Terrence Davis is the leading rebounder for Ole Miss, averaging 5.9 rebounds a game. Olejniczak, who’s over half a foot taller than Davis, averages just 3.3 rebounds per game. Davis is averaging even more rebounds per contest in SEC play, pulling down 6.4 rebounds a game against conference opponents.

    As a team, Ole Miss is averaging just 35 total rebounds a game. Tennessee is averaging 37.9 rebounds every game.

    While the Vols have struggled with stopping teams from getting offensive boards, overall they’ve done a good job of boxing out. They’ve given up the second-fewest total rebounds in SEC play this season. Ole Miss is giving up the sixth-most rebounds to opponents in conference play.

    What Ole Miss lacks in traditional size they make up for with their quickness and efficient play from their guards, though.

    On-ball defense has been a consistent issue for Tennessee this season, and it gave them a whole heap of trouble against LSU over the weekend. Javonte Smart put up a career-high 29 points against the Vols, and a large majority of them came from drives to the basket. Ole Miss has three dangerous guards who play over 30 minutes a game and are the Rebels’ top three scorers.

    Breein Tyree, Terrence Davis, and Devontae Shuler have combined to score 57.2 percent of the Rebels’ points this season. All three of those players are guards and are listed as 6-foot-4 or shorter.

    A Battle of Weaknesses 

    Neither team on Wednesday is good at defending the three. So there might be more three-pointers attempted than usual in this game.

    Ole Miss has the worst three-point defense in the SEC during conference play this season. They’ve allowed SEC teams to shoot 37.8 percent from three this year. In fact, their overall three-point defense (37.0 percent) in all 27 games they’ve played this year ranks 317th out of 353 teams in Division I basketball. The Rebels have given up the fourth-most made threes to SEC opponents on the season, allowing 116 makes (8.3 per game) this year.

    Tennessee isn’t too much better, though.

    The Vols are allowing conference opponents to make 36.0 percent of their threes this season. That’s the fourth-worst percentage in SEC play. Tennessee is right behind Ole Miss in terms of three-pointers allowed. SEC teams have made 120 threes (8.6 per game) against the Vols this season.

    Both the Rebels and Vols are good at making threes on offense, too. Ole Miss is sixth in SEC play in three-point percentage, making 35.2 percent of their three-pointers. Tennessee is fifth in conference play in the same category, making 36.8 percent of their shots from deep.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    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.