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Prediction Panel: No. 11 Tennessee vs. Ole Miss

Tennessee snapped a two-game losing streak last week with a close win over Mississippi State and a dominating performance against then-ranked No. 15 Kansas as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. It now turns its attention to a 7 p.m. tip against Ole Miss on Tuesday night.

Vols freshman guard Jaden Springer returned from injury to help guide Tennessee (12-3, 5-3 SEC) to the wins over the Bulldogs and Jayhawks. Springer averaged averaged 11.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the wins and was named the SEC Freshman Player of the Week as a result of his performance.

In UT’s 56-53 win over State, senior forward Yves Pons led the way in scoring with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The freshman duo of Keon Johnson and Springer combined to score 17 points while delivering several key plays late to propel the Vols to victory. Tennessee forced Mississippi State into 18 turnovers on the evening.

Pons also led the way in the 80-61 win over Kansas. He scored a team-high 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 shooting from the 3-point line, to go along with five rebounds. The Volunteers ripped down 38 rebounds, out-rebounding the Jayhawks by 15 and holding them to zero second-chance points.

Ole Miss (8-8, 3-6 SEC) is coming off of a 71-61 loss to Georgia and has lost its last two games. The Rebels out-rebounded the Bulldogs 40-30, with a 23-10 mark on the offensive glass, but shot 36 percent (23 of 64) from the floor.

Tennessee leads the all-time series with Ole Miss, 75-44, dating back to 1924. The Vols own a 27-25 edge when the game is played in Oxford. They enter Tuesday night’s game riding a five-game win streak in the series, including each of the last two meetings at The Pavilion.

Managing editor Ben McKee, as well as RTI contributor Blake Von Hagen, make their predictions for Saturday’s game between the Vols and Rebels:

Ben’s Pick

Tennessee couldn’t miss on Saturday against Kansas. It also dominated the boards, two aspects of the game the Vols have struggled to be consistent in this season. Was the performance a fluke? Or was it a sign of Rick Barnes’ squad turning the page and taking the next step as they build for a tournament run? Games against Ole Miss and Florida should be telling this week.

Ole Miss is a sneaky good defensive team that will pressure Tennessee’s young guards. Turnovers have been an issue at times for the Vols, and that could prove to be costly once again if they don’t take care of the basketball. Where the game will be won for the Vols is on the defensive end. Tennessee has an elite defense and Ole Miss doesn’t have many scoring options.

Pick: Tennessee, 70-58

MVP: Tennessee junior forward John Fulkerson

John Fulkerson has slowly began to look like himself of late. Fulkerson has been more active, which is when he is at his best. Ole Miss doesn’t have a threat in the post which will lead to Fulkerson turning in one of his best performances of the season.

Blake’s Pick

No. 11 Tennessee is coming off one of its most impressive wins of the season. The Vols have a chance to build on their momentum when they travel to face a struggling Ole Miss team on Tuesday night. The Rebels have dropped consecutive games to Arkansas and Georgia, falling to 3-6 in conference play. They are an excellent defense team, though, ranking No. 8 nationally in turnover rate and No. 23 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. It will be a nice challenge for Tennessee’s young guards.

The Vols are also great on defense, ranking second in efficiency at KenPom. This will be just their fourth road game of the season. They picked up wins at Missouri and Texas A&M in the first two, but they were blown out by Florida in their last road game. Ole Miss has excellent guard play, but Tennessee will win this game in the paint. Yves Pons is playing his best basketball of the season and John Fulkerson is coming off a nice outing against Kansas. Tennessee has an opportunity to push the tempo with Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer against an opponent that likes to play at a slow pace.

Pick: Tennessee, 66-60

MVP: Tennessee senior forward Yves Pons

There is not much of an explanation needed here. Pons is possibly the best defender in college basketball and he is now rounding into form on the offensive end. He will be a matchup nightmare for Ole Miss.

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