For a team desperate for a win, heading down to an arena they’ve historically struggled in doesn’t seem like a recipe for success.
Tennessee (15-12, 7-7 SEC) is fresh off an embarrassing 73-66 loss on the road to Auburn on Saturday, a game where UT led by 17 points at one point in the second half. Arkansas (17-10, 5-9) put an end to their five-game losing skid on Saturday, beating Missouri by 10 points at home to finally get back in the win column.
Both teams can’t afford another loss, but the Razorbacks have historically owned Tennessee on their home court, and Arkansas has only lost four times in 16 games at home this season. The Vols, meanwhile, are just 3-6 on the road this year.
Tennessee rides their defense and plods at a slow pace on offense. Arkansas has a good defense as well, but they play at a much quicker tempo than the Vols and have a scary three-headed attack on offense with Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe, and Jimmy Whitt.
The Vols have alternated wins and losses in their last six games, and they’re coming off a loss heading into Wednesday’s match-up. Arkansas hasn’t won two-straight games since mid-January. Though the Razorbacks have dominated UT in Fayetteville, the Vols have won three-straight games against Arkansas, including an 82-61 beat down in Knoxville just two weeks ago.
Here’s everything you should know and keep an eye on when the Vols and Razorbacks tip-off at 8:30 Eastern on the SEC Network on Wednesday night.
A Different Arkansas Team
Back when Tennessee beat Arkansas 82-61 in Knoxville on February 11th, the Razorbacks were in the midst of a five-game stretch without their second-leading scorer, Isaiah Joe. That was evidenced in their loss to the Vols, as UT shut down leading scorer Mason Jones, and the rest of Arkansas’ roster couldn’t respond.
Now, Joe is back, and Arkansas is a different team with him on the court.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard returned to action in the Razorbacks’ 78-68 win over Missouri on Saturday, and he had an immediate impact in his return. Joe played 37 minutes and shot 6-of-12 from the field, including going 5-of-10 from three. Joe totaled 21 points, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal. Joe provided a spark to an Arkansas offense that had averaged just 70.4 points a game in his absence, shooting only 39.7 percent as a team. Before Joe sat out for five games, the Razorbacks were averaging 74.6 points a game and shooting 44.5 percent as a team.
Arkansas lost every single game without Joe in the lineup, falling to Auburn, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi State, and Florida. When he returned, they immediately returned to their winning ways.
The Razorbacks are 16-5 with Joe on the court this season. They’re just 1-5 without him playing.
To say Tennessee has struggled on the road against Arkansas would be putting it lightly.
The Vols have played in Fayetteville 14 times dating back to 1993, and UT has only picked up a win four times. Tennessee has lost five straight games to Arkansas in Fayetteville with their last win coming in a nail-biter, 74-72, in 2009.
The last time these two teams played in Arkansas, the Razorbacks handed the Vols a 95-93 loss in overtime. That game saw Tennessee squander a nine-point second half lead and fall in overtime thanks to a frenzy of buckets from the Hogs to open the extra period. Arkansas led by as much as 12 in overtime before the Vols cut the deficit to a more respectable margin before the end.
Overall, Tennessee has won three-straight games against Arkansas, but two of those have been in Knoxville, and the other was in the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks are 10-4 all-time against the Vols in Fayetteville, and Arkansas is 12-4 at home in Bud Walton Arena this season.
Beware of Jones
When Tennessee hosted Arkansas earlier this month, Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman elected to pull leading scorer Mason Jones from the starting lineup and have him come off the bench. Musselman said after the game that he did so to try and get a spark off the bench, but most believe the decision was more disciplinary in nature than Musselman let on.
Whatever it was, Jones had one of his worst games of his career against Tennessee in that game, shooting just 1-of-10 from the floor and totaling nine points.
That game, though, has been a major aberration considering Jones’ performance the rest of the season.
The junior guard is the second-leading scorer in the SEC, averaging 20.5 points a contest. He’s been even better in SEC play, putting up 21.1 points a game against conference foes. Jones is also averaging 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting 51.6 percent from inside the three-point line on the year.
Immediately after his disappointing performance against Tennessee, Jones went out and scored 38 points against Mississippi State in the Razorbacks’ next game. That marked the sixth time this season that Jones has scored more than 30 points, and he’s eclipsed the 40-point mark twice. In total, Jones has scored at least 20 points in 13 of the 26 games he’s played, and he’s put up at least 16 points in all but seven games this season.
At home, Jones has been even more dangerous. The junior is averaging 21.6 points a game in Fayetteville this season and is shooting 45.9 percent overall and 58.8 percent on two-point field goals inside Bud Walton Arena.
For a bit, it looked as though the Vols had figured out their turnover issues and were playing with more security on offense. In a four-game stretch from February 1st through February 11th, Tennessee was averaging just 9.5 turnovers a game. That stretch included the Vols’ 21-point win over Arkansas, a game where UT only turned the ball over 11 times.
Since then, though, Tennessee has reverted to being a turnover machine.
Over the Vols’ last three games, they’re averaging a whopping 19.7 turnovers a contest. They’ve given the ball away 20 or more times in two of their last three games (both losses), and UT’s 14.3 turnovers a game in conference play is the second-highest average in the SEC.
Arkansas has thrived off creating turnovers this season, especially in SEC play. The Razorbacks’ 105 steals in conference play are the second-most in the league, and they’ve forced the third-most turnovers in league play, making opponents give up the ball 210 times. On offense, Arkansas has the fewest turnovers in SEC play this season, only turning the ball over an average of 10.6 times a game.
Tennessee is 6-6 this season when turning the ball over 14 or more times. Arkansas is 13-6 when forcing 14 or more turnovers, and they’re 11-3 when their opponent turns it over 16 times in a game. The Vols have eclipsed that turnover total eight times this season, going 4-4 in those games.