No. 9 Tennessee (7-1, 1-1 SEC) looks to bounce back from its first loss of the season on Wednesday night when it welcomes the Arkansas Razorbacks (9-1, 1-1 SEC) to Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols enter the contest coming off of a 71-63 loss to Alabama in their SEC home-opener. Tennessee shot 32% from the field, 4-of-21 from the three-point line and missed nine free throws. The Crimson Tide made five consecutive three’s in the early minutes of the second half to lead them to victory.
Arkansas also turned in an awful shooting performance in its last game out. In fact, the 13-point loss to Missouri on Saturday was the worst the Hogs have ever shot in Bud Walton Arena. They finished shooting 26.8% from the field, 25% from the three-point line and 67.6% from the free throw line as it missed 11 free throws.
Tennessee leads the all-time series with Arkansas 22-21, dating back to 1936. The two teams played twice last season and won one apiece. UT is 13-4 against the Hogs when the game is played in Knoxville. Vols head coach Rick Barnes is 3-5 against Arkansas during his Tennessee tenure.
A win would leave Barnes two wins shy of tying Phog Allen and Don Haskins for 20th on the all-time Division I wins list. It would also prevent Tennessee from losing two games in a row for the first time this season.
The Rocky Top Insider team makes their picks for Tennessee’s matchup with the 12th-ranked Missouri Tigers. Managing editor Ben McKee, as well as RTI contributor Blake Von Hagen share their predictions for Wednesday night’s showdown at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 in Thompson-Boling.
Both teams will be looking to get back on track when they square off in Knoxville. Tennessee and Arkansas both shot about as poor as you can shoot the ball in its losses to Alabama, and Missouri, respectively.
The Crimson Tide was 8-of-11 from three in the second half against the Vols. But outside of a stretch of five consecutive three’s to begin the final half of play, Tennessee did a decent job of keeping Alabama in check. Had the Vols knocked down the good looks that they received and normally make, they would still be undefeated on the season.
But they didn’t and now must get things turned around against an Arkansas team that plays a similar style of basketball to Alabama. Unless unforeseen circumstances present themselves once again, the Vols will have Yves Pons and Jaden Springer for the entirety of the game to help slow down the Hogs. There was a significant difference in Tennessee’s defense with Pons on and off the court.
Though I recognize the Vols have improvements to make and adjustments to be made, I’ve taken the glass-half full approach with this basketball team the last couple of days. Tennessee had plenty of good looks on offense and held Alabama in check outside of the stretch of five consecutive made threes. It did so without Pons in the first half, without Springer for nearly the entire game and despite a poor performance from John Fulkerson that result in him being benched over the final eight minutes of play.
Arkansas will put Tennessee to the test, but the Vols get back on track with a win against the Hogs.
Pick: Tennessee, 72-66
MVP: Tennessee forward John Fulkerson
Blake and I are on the same page here. Fulkerson got off to a slow start in conference play last season and after Barnes challenged him, he responded well to end the season. Barnes has once against challenged Fulkerson. It worked with Pons last week, and it’ll work again this week.
Connor Vanover’s size may prevent some issues for Fulkerson, but ultimately the fifth-year senior’s experience will prevail as he gets back on track.
It’s tough to gauge exactly how good Arkansas is to this point. The Razorbacks benefited from an easy non-conference schedule and looked shaky against Missouri on Saturday. They are certainly not as battle-tested as Tennessee, who has played four top-100 opponents. The Vols are coming off their first loss of the season, but they improved to No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. It’s not an awful matchup for them in this game—Arkansas is a decent, but not great, defensive team.
The Razorbacks leader, junior guard Desi Sills, really struggled with Missouri’s defense. He went 1 of 10 from the floor and could not get into a rhythm. They also had issues rebounding the ball, getting out-done on the glass by a tally of 53-36. Tennessee has been excellent on the offensive glass and should have more success on Wednesday. The Vols will bounce back from their loss to Alabama and get revenge for their loss to Arkansas last season when they face the Razorbacks on Wednesday night.
Pick: Tennessee, 73-65
MVP: Tennessee senior forward John Fulkerson
Rick Barnes asked for more from Yves Pons and Pons delivered with his best outing of the season against Missouri. Barnes did the same with Fulkerson following the loss to Alabama and he is going to answer the bell on Wednesday.