Tennessee and Arkansas are set to face-off for the first of two meetings during the regular season on Tuesday night, and both programs come into the conference match-up on the decline.
The Vols (13-10, 5-5 SEC) ended their three-game losing streak with a road win against Alabama last week, but they’ve lost four of their last five games. Arkansas (16-7, 4-6) has hit several bumps in the road during conference play and currently sit below .500 in the league.
Knoxville hasn’t been kind to the Razorbacks, with Arkansas losing 12 of the 16 games they’ve played against the Vols on the road. All-time, Tennessee is 21-20 against Arkansas, and the Vols have won back-to-back games against the Razorbacks.
Tennessee is expected to be without starting guard Josiah-Jordan James once again for Tuesday’s contest. He’s missed the Vols’ last three games after re-aggravating a hip/groin injury.
Here are the most important things to know and keep an eye on for tonight’s match-up that’s set to tip-off at 7:00 PM Eastern on the SEC Network.
Another Elite Scorer
Tennessee has already faced four of the top scorers in the SEC this season in Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, Ole Miss’ Breein Tyree, Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr., and Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry. Now, UT will be taking on the league’s top scorer when they host Arkansas.
The Razorbacks are led by Mason Jones, who currently sits atop the SEC in points per game. Jones is averaging a whopping 20.5 points per game and is also leading the Hogs in rebounding (6.1), assists (3.4), and steals (1.8). Jones is connecting on 43.6 percent of his shots and 33.3 percent of his three-pointers.
In SEC play, Jones has been even better, averaging 21.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.8 steals in 10 conference games.
The sophomore just dropped 40 points on Auburn last Tuesday in the Razorbacks’ overtime loss to the Tigers, shooting 12-of-24 from the field and 5-of-12 from three. That was the second time this season he’s scored at least 40 points in a game, and it marked the fifth time this season Jones has eclipsed the 30-point mark. He’s scored at least 20 points in 11 of the 22 games he’s played. Arkansas is just 7-4 when Jones scores 20 or more points, however.
With Tuesday’s game, the Vols will have faced the six highest-scoring players in the SEC this season in their first 11 games. Tennessee has also faced Vanderbilt’s Saban Lee, who averages 16.9 points a game.
Arkansas will have their top scoring option against the Vols, but they’ll be without arguably their second-best player when they take the floor in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Isaiah Joe, the Hogs’ second-leading scorer, is out indefinitely after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last Tuesday. He’s missed the last two games for Arkansas, and the Razorbacks have lost both contests.
Joe, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, was averaging 16.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.6 steals a game before being sidelined. He was also the Razorbacks’ best three-point shooter, and he took a ton of threes each game. Joe was making 34 percent of his threes, and he was averaging 10.6 three-point attempts a game.
Even without Joe in the lineup, the Hogs are a very guard-heavy team. Reggie Chaney is the only player 6-foot-8 or taller who plays any significant time. Otherwise, the bulk of Arkansas’ roster who sees the court are 6-foot-6 or shorter.
The 6-foot-8 Chaney is coming off his best game as a Razorback this season, recording a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds against Missouri. Chaney has started the last five games for Arkansas and is averaging 7.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in that stretch.
Other than Chaney, only Jeantal Cylia (6-foot-7) and Ethan Henderson (6-foot-8) are taller than 6-foot-6 on the Razorbacks’ roster, but Cylia only plays eight minutes a game, and Henderson has only appeared in 11 games this season.
Mason Jones (6-foot-5), Jimmy Whitt (6-foot-3), Desi Sills (6-foot-2), Adrio Bailey (6-foot-6), and Jalen Harris (6-foot-2) play the majority of the Hogs’ minutes.
This is a game where not having Josiah-Jordan James’ perimeter defense could really hurt the Vols.
Not Good vs. Top 40
Tuesday’s game against Arkansas will be the eighth team the Vols have faced this season that’s currently ranked inside the top 40 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. And Tennessee has yet to get a win against a top-40 KenPom team.
The Vols are 0-7 against current top-40 KenPom teams, losing to Kansas (1st), Florida State (20th), Kentucky (29th), Wisconsin (32nd), LSU (34th), Mississippi State (38th), and Cincinnati (39th). Tennessee has faced two other teams ranked inside the top 50 of the KenPom rankings, and they’ve beaten them, defeating VCU (41st) and Alabama (49th).
Arkansas is currently ranked No. 35 in the KenPom rankings. The Vols are ranked 67th. Tennessee is just 3-8 against teams currently ranked ahead of them in the KenPom rankings, with their other wins coming against Washington (53rd) and their other loss coming against Memphis (63rd). The Vols are 10-2 against teams currently ranked below them in the KenPom rankings.
Both Arkansas and Tennessee come into Tuesday’s match-up in a bit of a funk.
The Vols have lost four of their last five contests and have just about played themselves off the NCAA Tournament bubble. Arkansas, meanwhile, looked like one of the top three teams in the SEC to start the year. Now, they’ve fallen into the middle of the pack thanks to their recent troubles.
Arkansas has lost back-to-back overtime contests, falling to Auburn at home and Missouri on the road. The Razorbacks have lost three of their last four games and five of their last seven contests.
After starting the season 12-1, Arkansas now sits at 16-7. Granted, their loss to Missouri is their only “bad” loss in that span, with their other losses coming at LSU, at Mississippi State, against Kentucky, against South Carolina, and against Auburn. But their slide is still surprising considering the start they had this season.
Both the Vols and Razorbacks desperately need a victory, and a loss for either would be a big blow to their postseason hopes.