What to Know: Tennessee vs. Texas A&M

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    Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

    Tennessee took a brief respite from SEC play to take on one of the top teams in college basketball in No. 3 Kansas on Saturday. Now, the Vols go back to conference play, and they’ll be taking on another team located in Big 12 country who just happens to play in the SEC.

    The Vols (12-7, 4-2 SEC) host Texas A&M (9-9, 3-3) for a 6:30 PM Eastern tip-off on the SEC Network on Tuesday night. Tennessee has won two-straight SEC games and four of their last five games in conference play. The Aggies, meanwhile, have lost two of their last three SEC games with their win coming by two points on the road against Missouri.

    Tennessee enters Tuesday’s game having won three-straight games against the Aggies, including two road wins in College Station. The Vols started off poorly against Texas A&M when they first joined the SEC, losing four of the first five games they played against them. But UT has reversed course over the last four seasons, and they’ll look to continue that trend on Tuesday.

    Here are the most important things for you to know about today’s match-up between Tennessee and Texas A&M.

    This Will Be Slow

    Are you ready for potentially the slowest game Tennessee has played this season? Because that could be the case on Tuesday night.

    Both the Vols and Texas A&M rank in the 300s in adjusted tempo per Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. The Vols rank 305th, averaging 65.3 possessions a game. The Aggies are even slower, coming in at No. 335 in Division I basketball, averaging just 64 possessions a game.

    Tennessee enters Tuesday’s contest averaging just 54.1 field goal attempts per game, and that number is even lower in SEC play. Against conference foes, the Vols are putting up just 52.5 field goals a game, and they’ve shot the ball less than 50 times in three of the six SEC games they’ve played.

    Texas A&M puts up even fewer shots per game. The Aggies attempts just 52.1 field goals a game and only 52.3 attempts per contest in SEC play.

    Some Really Bad Offense

    Even though the Vols don’t put up a lot of shots and run a slow tempo, their offense isn’t extremely inefficient. UT is only averaging 66.6 points a game, but they’re shooting 43 percent as a team and are averaging 15.1 assists per game. Tennessee hasn’t been the most efficient offense ever, especially when it comes to turning the ball over, but their lower scoring totals are more of a product of their slower tempo rather than missing a ton of shots.

    For Texas A&M, their offense has just been…bad.

    The Aggies have one of the worst team field goal percentages in all of college basketball. Texas A&M is only shooting 40.1 percent as a team this season, including a putrid 26.1 percent from three. Only three other teams in all of Division I basketball have a worse three-point shooting percentage this season. The Aggies are also averaging just 61.1 points a game, which ranks 344th in the nation.

    Texas A&M has played better offensively in SEC play, shooting 43.9 percent overall and 31 percent from three against conference opponents. In fact, their game from inside the three-point arc has been one of the most efficient in the league, as the Aggies are making 51.2 percent of their two-point shots in SEC play.

    Even with that, the Aggies are still only averaging 67.2 points a game in six conference games, and their three wins have come against some of the bottom feeders in the SEC (just like Tennessee, ironically enough). The Aggies have beaten Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Missouri and have lost to LSU, Arkansas, and South Carolina.

    Get Ready for Some Blocks

    Yves Pons is one of the most prolific blockers in the NCAA this season. Texas A&M boasts a proficient shot blocker on their roster, too.

    Pons enters Tuesday’s game with a school record 19-game block streak, and his 51 blocks on the season are already tied for the 10th-most in a single season in school history. Pons is averaging 2.68 blocks a game, which is on pace to set a school record.

    The “Flying Frenchman” does all that while being 6-foot-6 and playing as an undersized four. Texas A&M’s Josh Nebo is a 6-foot-9 forward who is just as much as a bully on the defensive end as Pons is.

    Nebo has swatted 42 shots in 17 games this season, and he’s averaging 2.47 blocks a game. The senior forward blocked eight shots against Oregon State in December, and he’s totaled three or more blocks in eight games. Pons’ season-high is six blocks against Jacksonville State, but he’s been more consistent, totaling three or more blocks in 12 games.

    Both Nebo and Pons are two of the three leading shot blockers in the SEC this season. Kentucky’s Nick Richards is also averaging right around 2.5 blocks a game.

    Watch the Free Throws 

    If this game comes down to making free throws late in the game, Tennessee should have a decided advantage.

    The Vols are making 75.5 percent of their free throws this season, which ranks in the top 50 in all of Division I basketball. UT’s free throw percentage of 79 percent in SEC play is the third-best in the conference. Tennessee doesn’t shoot a ton of free throws, totaling the second-fewest attempts in conference play. But when the Vols get to the line, they usually make their shots.

    The same cannot be said for Texas A&M.

    This season, the Aggies are making just 67.1 percent of their free throws, and their 67.6 percent free throw percentage in SEC play is the second-worst in the conference. And for whatever reason, teams tend to have strong games at the free throw line against the Aggies. Texas A&M’s opponents are making 81.4 percent of their shots from the charity stripe in SEC play, which is the highest opponent free throw percentage in the league.

    Texas A&M doesn’t commit a lot of fouls, and Tennessee doesn’t draw as many as they probably should. So if the Vols want to take advantage of this big mismatch, they’ll need to play more aggressively.



    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.