What to Know: Tennessee vs. Ole Miss

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    Tennessee finally put together some offense in the second half against Vanderbilt on Saturday, and the Vols are back above .500 in conference play. Ole Miss, meanwhile, has struggled mightily over the last few weeks.

    The Vols (11-6, 3-2 SEC) host Ole Miss (9-8, 0-4) for a late night tip-off in Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night. Tennessee has been inconsistent as of late, but they’ve won three of their first five SEC games and look to improve to 4-2 in conference play. The Rebels have failed to win an SEC game so far, and Ole Miss is currently on a five-game losing streak.

    When these two teams met in Oxford last year, madness ensued. Tennessee escaped with a 73-71 victory after Grant Williams hit the go-ahead bucket with four seconds remaining, but it was a controversial charge call after that bucket that stole the show.

    Ole Miss guard Devontae Shuler ran down the court and attempted a three, running into Admiral Schofield. The officials whistled a charging foul on Shuler instead of a blocking foul on Schofield, and Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis lost his cool, tossing his jacket to the floor and yelling at the officials.

    The result: A technical foul on Davis and a thrilling win for the Vols.

    This year, both Ole Miss and Tennessee’s rosters look quite different than last year’s teams, but the emotions will likely still be there when the two teams face-off.

    Here are the most important things to know for tonight’s Tennessee vs. Ole Miss game that tips off at 9:00 PM Eastern on the SEC Network.

    One Man Show?

    Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree is one of the top scorers in the SEC. In fact, no other SEC player is averaging more points per game in conference play than the Rebels’ senior this season.

    In three SEC games, Tyree is averaging a whopping 29.7 points per game and is shooting 50.8 percent overall and an astounding 50 percent from three. Tyree has attempted 22 three-pointers in his three conference games, and he’s made exactly 11 of them.

    Despite Tyree’s efforts, Ole Miss has lost every SEC game they’ve played.

    The Rebels have lost five consecutive games, including four-straight to start conference play. For all the scoring Tyree has been able to do — including 36 points vs. LSU — Ole Miss hasn’t found a way to get a conference victory.

    Ole Miss has other players capable of scoring, as three other Rebels average double figures, and Khadim Sy averages 8.9 points a game. But the other scoring options outside of Tyree are far less consistent, and Tyree dominates the amount of shots taken per game.

    Blake Hinson is the most consistent of the second options for Ole Miss, as he’s scored at least 13 points in the Rebels’ last three games. KJ Buffen dropped 20 against Florida but has totaled 20 points in Ole Miss’ other three SEC games combined. Devontae Shuler started strong with 12 and 10 points in the Rebels’ first two SEC games, but he’s followed that up with five and six-point performances the last two times out.

    Tyree only trails Georgia’s Anthony Edwards in overall scoring per game among active SEC players, and he’s also averaging the second-most field goal attempts per game in the SEC, trailing only Edwards in that category as well. The Vols couldn’t slow down Edwards when they played UGA a week ago, but containing Tyree will be just as key for UT to come away with a win on Tuesday night.

    Is Bowden Back?

    Over the last three weeks, Tennessee’s lone active senior, Jordan Bowden, had been struggling to find himself on offense. Dating back to Tennessee’s 68-48 loss to Wisconsin on December 28th, Bowden was shooting just 21.2 percent overall and only 13.2 percent from three, averaging 8.2 points in the process.

    On Saturday against Vanderbilt, Bowden finally seemed to break out of his prolonged slump.

    The senior only played 29 minutes against the Commodores, his fifth-fewest minutes in a game this season, but he put up 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Bowden was much more aggressive on offense, and he wasn’t settling for threes or playing tentatively. Bowden only attempted two three-pointers, and though he missed both, he was 7-of-9 from inside the three-point line and went 7-of-8 from the free throw line.

    Bowden’s 21 points were the most he has scored since fellow senior Lamonte Turner went down for the season, and it marked the most points he had scored since dropping 26 against Murray State in the Vols’ second game of the season.

    If Bowden has, indeed, found his offensive rhythm again, that would prove extremely beneficial for the Vols. Tennessee is undefeated whenever Bowden scores 20 or more points in a game, owning a 6-0 mark when Bowden eclipses 20 points in his career. In fact, UT is 13-0 when Bowden scores 17 or more points in a game in his career, with six of those wins coming against SEC teams and another coming against Washington earlier this season.

    Strengths vs. Weaknesses 

    Outside of Breein Tyree, Ole Miss’ offense isn’t very efficient. Tennessee’s defense, meanwhile, has been stout for most of the season.

    The Rebels as a team are shooting just 38.8 percent from the field in SEC play. That ranks 13th out of 14 SEC teams. Their 44.8 shooting percentage from inside the three-point line ranks 12th in the conference, and their 40 total assists is second-to-last in SEC play. Ole Miss is averaging just 62.5 points per game in conference play. Only Vanderbilt has a worse scoring average against SEC teams this season.

    Tennessee’s defense has been one of the best in the SEC since conference play began. The Vols are holding conference opponents to just a 37.5 percent shooting percentage overall, which is tops in the SEC. Their opponents are making just 42.6 percent of their two-point shots, which is the third-best defensive percentage in the league. The Vols also have the most blocks of any team in the conference in SEC play, totaling 34 in five games. Teams are only averaging 63.4 points a game against the Vols in SEC play, which is also No. 1 in the conference.

    But for all those pluses in UT’s favor, there are several that point to Ole Miss, too.

    The Vols have turned the ball over more than any other SEC team in conference play this season. Tennessee has committed a whopping 82 turnovers in five games, averaging 16.4 turnovers a contest. Ole Miss, however, has the third-fewest turnovers in SEC play at 54, and they’re averaging just 13.5 turnovers a game.

    Ole Miss has also done a great job limiting opponents’ opportunities to score. SEC teams have put up just 211 total shots against the Rebels, the fewest field goal attempts allowed in conference play by any team. Tennessee already plays with one of the slowest paces in the SEC, so coupling that with the Rebels’ style and the Vols’ knack for turning the ball over, and the game may not be as clear cut as you’d think.

    Home Court Advantage 

    Tennessee has flat out dominated Ole Miss when the Rebels have come to Knoxville. The Vols are 42-12 all-time against Ole Miss in Knoxville, but recent history has been even more unkind to the Rebels when they make the travel up to Thompson-Boling Arena.

    The Vols have won two-straight games against Ole Miss in Knoxville, and UT is 14-2 vs. the Rebels in Thompson-Boling Arena dating back to 1992. The only times Ole Miss has left Knoxville with a victory over the last 28 years have been in 2016 (83-60) and 2013 (92-74). Otherwise, Tennessee has owned the Rebels whenever they’ve had the misfortune to come into TBA.

    In every other area, the two teams are almost perfectly even. Ole Miss is 25-27 against the Vols in Oxford, and UT is just 5-7 against the Rebels in the SEC Tournament. But when the game is played in Knoxville, Tennessee almost always wins.



    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.