What to Know: No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 6 Mississippi State

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    Tennessee will tip-off for their first game of the 2019 SEC Tournament late on Friday night, and their opponent will be a team they’ve seen quite often in the postseason.

    No. 3 seed Tennessee (27-4, 15-3 SEC) will take on No. 6 seed Mississippi State (23-9, 10-8 SEC) in the last game of the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. The Vols and Bulldogs will tip-off approximately half an hour after two-seed Kentucky takes on 10-seed Alabama at 7:00 PM Eastern. The two will likely start play sometime around 9:30 Eastern.

    Friday’s game will mark the 12th meeting between the two schools in the SEC Tournament, which will be tied for the third-most games the Vols have played against a single opponent in the conference tournament. Tennessee is 8-3 all-time against the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament and have won the last two games between the two schools. These two teams faced-off last season in the quarterfinals as well, and No. 2 seed Tennessee defeated No. 7 seed Mississippi State 62-59.

    The Vols have yet to play a game in the SEC Tournament this year, but Mississippi State breezed by 11th-seeded Texas A&M on Thursday night in a second round match-up. The Bulldogs easily handled the Aggies by a score of 80-54. Six different Bulldogs scored at least nine points against Texas A&M, and they were led by 15 points from Lamar Peters.

    Tennessee’s Grant Williams was just voted the SEC Player of the Year for the second-straight year earlier this week, and he and Admiral Schofield are First-Team All-SEC selections as well. Point guard Jordan Bone was voted to the second team. Mississippi State’s Quinndary Weatherspoon was also voted as an All-SEC performer for the fourth-straight season.

    Here’s everything you need to know when the Vols take on Mississippi State in the quarterfinals on Friday night in Nashville.

    You Look Familiar

    Not only has Tennessee seen Mississippi State a ton in the SEC Tournament over the years, but the two teams just played each other not even two weeks ago.

    The Vols hosted Mississippi State on March 5th in Knoxville, and Tennessee handled the Bulldogs with ease on Senior Night. Tennessee led for most of the game and defeated Mississippi State 71-54. The 54 points the Bulldogs scored are the fewest points they’ve put up in a game this season.

    Tennessee played somewhat sloppy in the last match-up between these two teams — committing 15 turnovers and only winning the rebounding battle by four boards — but they rode a solid effort on defense to blow out the Bulldogs in the second half. The Vols held State to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor, and they forced the Bulldogs to commit 17 turnovers. Tennessee also blocked eight shots on the night.

    Mississippi State’s leading scorer, Quinndary Weatherspoon, managed only seven points on 3-of-12 shooting from the floor. The senior is averaging over 18 points a game on the season.

    In the Paint

    A big key against Mississippi State is winning the rebounding battle. The Bulldogs have some quality rebounders and do a good job of keeping opponents off the glass.

    The last time the Vols and Mississippi State played, the Bulldogs out-rebounded UT in the first half and nearly won the rebounding battle for the whole game. Tennessee barely edged out State in the rebounding department, hauling in 44 compared to 40 by the Bulldogs. Mississippi State did snag more offensive boards, though, bringing down 16 to UT’s 15.

    Four different Mississippi State players average over 4.5 rebounds a game. Reggie Perry leads the way with 7.1 rebounds per game, and Aric Holman hauls in 6.2 boards per contest. Against the Vols on March 5th, Perry totaled a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds while Holman brought down seven boards to go with his five points.

    The Vols also need to be wary of Mississippi State’s ability to block shots. The Bulldogs average five blocks per game on the season, which is one of the best averages in the country. Tennessee can also block shots, though, as they average 5.4 blocks a contest.

    A Bad Match-Up

    Mississippi State just doesn’t have an answer for Admiral Schofield.

    Tennessee’s senior forward has been a terror for the Bulldogs the last two seasons. The Vols played Mississippi State twice last season and have already played them once this year, and he’s been a headache for them every time.

    Schofield dropped 24 points against Mississippi State back on February 27th, 2018, and he followed that up with 13 points in UT’s SEC Tournament victory over the Bulldogs last year. This year, Schofield was the leading scorer in the game in Knoxville, dropping 18 points on 3-of-4 shooting from three and 7-of-13 shooting overall.

    In his last three games against Mississippi State, Schofield is averaging 18.3 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 46.5 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from three.

    Play Your Game

    Tennessee has had a bad habit this season of settling for jumpers and threes instead of attacking the rim and focusing on defense.

    The last time these two teams played, the Vols were a little complacent on offense, especially in the first half. Tennessee shot 13 three-pointers and only attempted five free throws in the first half against the Bulldogs in Knoxville a week and a half ago, and that led to Mississippi State hanging around for most of the first half.

    But Tennessee got back to their style of play in the second half, only attempting 10 more threes and getting to the free throw line 12 times in the final half of play. The Vols outscored Mississippi State 40-29 in the second half in the process.

    In UT’s next game, though, they tried to out-shoot Auburn and jacked up 28 three-pointers while only attempting 16 free throws as a team. The result was an 84-80 loss on the road to the Tigers.

    Tennessee is at their best when they’re being aggressive on offense and being smart on defense. In their four losses this season, UT has been out-shot at the free throw line 122 to 67, and the Vols have attempted at least 22 three-pointers in all four games. In Tennessee’s 27 wins this season, they’re only averaging 18.3 three-pointers attempted a game.

    If the Vols don’t settle and do what they did in the second half against the Bulldogs the last time the two teams played, they should be able to win just as easily.

    Bad History

    Since the SEC Tournament was reintroduced in 1979 following a 25-year hiatus, Tennessee has had very, very bad luck in the tournament.

    The Vols won that first tournament in 1979, but they’ve made it to the finals just three other times since then (1991, 2009, 2018), and they’ve been bounced from the SEC Tournament without winning a game on 16 different occasions. Tennessee is just 32-39 in the tournament since it returned in 1979.

    Since Rick Barnes has been UT’s head coach, though, they’ve enjoyed slightly more success in the SEC Tournament than in previous years. The Vols have won two games in the SEC Tournament in two out of the three years Barnes has been at the helm, and UT made it to the finals last year for only the fourth time in the last 40 years. Overall, Tennessee is 4-3 in the SEC Tournament under Barnes. The Vols are also 7-7 all-time in the SEC Tournament in Bridgestone Arena and 11-9 overall in the tournament when it’s played in Nashville.