No. 10 Tennessee will host one of the worst teams in Division I on Friday night when Tennessee Tech comes to Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols are coming off a 79-38 blowout over Appalachian State, marking the fewest points allowed during the Rick Barnes era. They improved to 3-0 on the season and are 27.5-point favorites on Friday night.
Tennessee’s defense has been spectacular to open the season. It is tied with Fresno State for the NCAA lead in scoring defense, allowing just 47.0 points per game. KenPom ranks the Vols third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.
“This could be the best defensive team that we have certainly had here at Tennessee and one of the best maybe in the country in a long time, if these young guys continue to get better and we can continue to improve and do the same thing in SEC conference when our conference games come,” assistant coach Desmond Oliver said on Thursday during a media availability.
This could be another impressive defensive effort for the Vols. Tennessee Tech ranks No. 343 in adjusted offensive efficiency and has lost all seven of its games this season. The Golden Eagles were blown out by Jacksonville State on Wednesday night.
They did get junior guard Damaria Franklin back for the last two games after he missed the first five. Franklin scored 21 points in a loss to Jacksonville State on Sunday, but he was held to four points in Wednesday’s rematch.
“They (Tennessee Tech) have played four or five games with some key guys that were missing, so their record is a bit deceiving,” Oliver said. “They are a lot better than what their record indicates. Their top two players just came back a game or two ago and they are night and day different as a team.”
Regardless, it should be another opportunity for Barnes to experiment with different lineups and rotations. Tennessee had 11 players score in the win over Appalachian State on Tuesday night.
Senior forward John Fulkerson leads the team with 12.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Senior wing Yves Pons is off to a slow start offensively, scoring 5.7 points on 30.8 percent shooting. However, Pons is blocking one shot per game and is adding 6.7 rebounds.
Five-star freshmen guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson have flashed their potential early in the season. Springer scored 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting against the Mountaineers. More importantly to the coaching staff, Springer and Johnson have brought a high-level of defensive intensity.
“They do not want you to score and they want to dominate you on the offensive end,” Oliver said. “That is what made us want to recruit them. I am just surprised at how early they picked up our system and became two of the better guys on our team at guarding the basketball. They came in with that ability from day one.”
Friday night marks the first of three games during a six-day stretch for the Vols. They will host Saint Joseph’s on Monday and South Carolina Upstate on Wednesday.
“I told our guys last night during the Tennessee Tech scout that as I was watching our guys, it reminded me of the Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield led team when they won the SEC Championship, in that every guy was locked in,” Oliver said. “…That’s rare when you’re talking about a team coming off a 41-point win over App State to stay focused with such a short turnaround.”
Friday night’s game will tip at 7:00 p.m. ET on SEC Network+.