What to Know: Tennessee at No. 3 Kansas

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    Saturday will mark only the fifth all-time meeting between Tennessee and Kansas in men’s basketball, but it feels a little like a non-conference rivalry with how heated their meetings have been.

    No. 3 Kansas (15-3) will host the Vols (12-6) for a 4:00 PM Eastern tip-off in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday, marking the fifth time the two programs have faced-off and only the second time UT has traveled over to Allen Fieldhouse.

    The first time these two teams met was only 11 years ago. No. 14 Tennessee fell 92-85 to unranked Kansas on January 3, 2009 on the road. The next season, an undermanned Vol squad upset No. 1 Kansas in Thompson-Boling Arena, as No. 16 Tennessee beat the Jayhawks 76-68 on January 10, 2010.

    The last two times the two teams have met have been on a neutral court. No. 11 Kansas throttled Tennessee 82-67 in the the 2014 Orlando Classic, and No. 2 Kansas beat No. 5 Tennessee in overtime, 87-81, in the NIT Season Tip-off title game last season.

    This season, the Jayhawks will once again be a top-5 ranked team when they play the Vols, and Tennessee will be unranked. But Kansas will be down a couple players, and the the Vols have as full of a roster as they’ve had all season and finally seem to be playing with some more chemistry.

    Here’s everything you need to know for Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge match-up between the Vols and Jayhawks.

    Serving Time

    Kansas will still have their core group of players intact on Saturday, but the Jayhawks will be down two players when they host the Vols in Allen Fieldhouse.

    Due to their roles in a post-game brawl against Kansas State, both Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack are suspended for Saturday’s contest. De Sousa is suspended for 12 games, and McCormack is serving a two-game suspension.

    On the court, McCormack is the bigger loss of the two. The 6-foot-10 sophomore forward is a big body who is sixth on the Jayhawks’ roster in scoring (7.5 PPG) and second on the team in rebounding (4.7 RPG). He’s started all but one game for Kansas this season and has appeared in all 18 games, averaging 16.1 minutes a contest.

    De Sousa has been a disappointment for the Jayhawks so far this season. The 6-foot-9 junior forward has made one start and appeared in all 18 games, but he’s only averaging 2.6 points and 2.8 rebounds a game. He’s averaging nearly a block a game on defense as well.

    With both McCormack and De Sousa sidelined, Kansas will likely only play seven players on Saturday. Isaiah Moss has been a key bench player, averaging 22.6 minutes a game and eight points a contest, and he’ll likely get the start in McCormack’s place. But the only other bench players who play any significant role for the Jayhawks this season are 6-foot-6 freshman guard Christian Braun and 6-foot-8 freshman Tristan Enaruna.

    One Big Man

    Thanks to the suspensions of McCormack and De Sousa, Kansas will essentially be down to just one post player on Saturday. But what a post player he is.

    Senior center Udoka Azubuike measures in at 7-foot, 270 pounds and is a match-up nightmare. He leads the Jayhawks in rebounding at 9.5 per game, and he’s second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.9 points. Azubuike has collected seven double-doubles this season, and he has 14 career double-doubles in 74 games played with Kansas.

    But aside from Azubuike, Kansas won’t really have a post presence available.

    The only other active player on the Jayhawks’ roster who stands 6-foot-8 or taller is the aforementioned Tristan Enaruna. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound freshman isn’t much of a post player, however, and he only averages 13.4 minutes, 3.2 points, and 2.6 rebounds a game.

    What Kansas will lack in size, they’ll make up for in elite guard play.

    Sophomore Devon Dotson is a force, averaging 18.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 4.0 rebounds a game while shooting 45.7 percent overall. Junior Marcus Garrett also averages over four assists a game (4.4 APG), and he averages 9.5 points a contest. Sophomore Ochai Agbaji averages 10.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while making 36.6 percent of this threes. Isaiah Moss, a transfer from Iowa, shoots 39.5 percent from three. Vol fans likely remember Moss from UT’s match-up with Iowa in the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, as Moss went 3-of-5 from three and scored 16 points and brought down five rebounds.

    Kansas isn’t afraid to play some smaller ball, and they have the guard play to accomplish that.

    Good at Everything 

    Vol fans will see one of the most well-rounded basketball teams in college basketball on Saturday afternoon when UT takes on the Jayhawks.

    Kansas is one of two teams in all of college basketball to be ranked in the top 10 of both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. The Jayhawks rank No. 1 in all Division I basketball in adjusted defensive efficiency, and they’re ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency. The only other team to be ranked in the top 10 in both categories is Duke.

    In fact, Kansas is the No. 1 overall team in KenPom’s rankings. Not only have the Jayhawks been efficient, but they’ve done so against arguably the toughest schedule in college basketball this season. Kansas has played Duke, Villanova, Baylor, West Virginia, Colorado, and Dayton to name a few. They’ve also taken on solid programs like ETSU, BYU, Stanford, and Oklahoma.

    The Jayhawks rank seventh in all of college basketball in team field goal percentage (49.5%), and their two-point field goal percentage ranks 11th (56.2%). Their 76.7 points per game ranks 63rd out of 353 Division I teams. On the flip side, Kansas’ defense is holding teams to just 37.5 percent shooting overall, which ranks 11th in the country. They don’t allow teams to get many rebounds, as their 570 total rebounds given up to opponents is the 27th-fewest in the nation. Their 60.6 points a game allowed ranks 15th in the country.

    Tennessee’s defense is fairly comparable to Kansas, as the Vols rank 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom, and opponents are only shooting 37.7 percent against them, which ranks 14th. Tennessee also has one of the best defenses inside the three-point line, holding teams to just a 41.2 percent shooting percentage on two-point shot attempts. That ranks fourth in the nation. Teams are scoring only 59 points a game against the Vols, which is the seventh-best average in all of Division I.

    The Vols’ offense, however, is far less efficient than their defense. UT has played a little better as of late against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, but those two teams have yet to win an SEC game. Tennessee’s 66.5 points per game ranks 301st in Division I, and their 42.9 percent shooting percentage ranks 227th. UT’s offense ranks 139th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency.

    History Not on Vols’ Side

    Historically, Tennessee hasn’t played well against teams ranked inside the top five of the AP Poll, and historically head coach Rick Barnes has struggled against Kansas head coach Bill Self.

    All-time, the Vols are just 28-77 against top five teams in the AP Poll. That includes just a 3-16 mark against teams ranked No. 3 in the poll. As a Division I head coach, Barnes is just 21-44 vs. top five teams, and he’s 2-9 against Kansas when they’re ranked in the top five.

    Throughout his coaching career, Rick Barnes is just 7-16 vs. Bill Self when their two teams have gone head-to-head. Barnes has defeated Self six times while he’s been the head coach at Kansas and once when he was the head coach at Illinois.

    Surprisingly, though, Barnes’ seven wins against Self are tied for the most by any one coach against him. Only Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has beaten Bill Self as many times as Rick Barnes has.

    Under Barnes, the Vols are actually 4-3 against teams ranked in the top five of the AP Poll. Tennessee went 3-2 against such teams last season, defeating No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 4 Kentucky twice. The Vols also lost to No. 2 Kansas and No. 5 Kentucky.



    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.