The state of Tennessee is in disarray on the basketball court. At least, east of Memphis.
Tennessee (10-6, 2-2 SEC) and Vanderbilt (8-8, 0-3) face-off in Nashville on Saturday night, and both teams desperately need a win to try and turn around their seasons early in conference play. The Vols lost by 17 points to Georgia on the road on Wednesday, and UT has lost six of their last 11 contests after starting the season 5-0. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has lost four-straight games and has yet to get a victory in SEC play.
The Commodores will be playing without the SEC’s leading scorer, Aaron Nesmith. The star forward was averaging 23 points a game but suffered a season-ending injury a week ago. Vanderbilt has lost by 19 to Texas A&M and by 20 to Arkansas in the two games they’ve played without Nesmith.
Tennessee, meanwhile, welcomed in another new addition to their active roster earlier this week when the NCAA finally officially cleared seven-foot Arizona State transfer Uros Plavsic. He played 17 minutes and added five points and three rebounds in the Vols’ loss to Georgia, his debut game for UT.
The Vols enter Saturday’s contest having won four-straight games against Vanderbilt, and they’ve beaten the Commodores in six of the last seven meetings between the two teams.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound wideout is the No. 148 overall prospect and No. 30 receiver in the 2021 class per the 247Sports Composite rankings. Earlier this week, Brinson tweeted out that he would be visiting Auburn, South Carolina, and Tennessee this week. The talented receiver was on Auburn’s campus on Friday, and now he’s on Tennessee’s campus.
Auburn🦅…..South Carolina🐔…..& Tennessee I would be in the building this week 😅
Brinson picked up an offer from the Vols back on May 1st of 2019. At the time, Brinson was committed to Miami, pledging himself to the Hurricanes on February 10th. But on November 24th, he reopened his recruitment and decommitted from Miami.
Now, the speedy and dynamic receiver is just taking things slow. He holds offers from schools like Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, and many others. Tennessee made his new top 10 a week ago, and they were included along with Miami, Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Penn State, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida, and Nebraska.
Brinson is one of several 2021 prospects who are on UT’s campus this weekend, and Tennessee’s coaches are set to host a plethora of 2021 recruits in the month of January before the dead period begins in February.
As a junior last season for Northwestern, Brinson caught 43 passes for 834 yards and eight touchdowns according to MaxPreps.
Tennessee currently has four players committed to the in their 2021 class. Four-star wide receiver Jordan Mosley, three-star cornerback Jay Jones, three-star athlete Nate Evans, and three-star athlete Elijah Howard are UT’s early junior commits. Wide receiver figures to be a big position of need for the Vols in the 2021 cycle.
Tennessee and Vanderbilt will square off tonight for their first of two regular season meetings, and both teams are not playing their best basketball right now.
The Vols (10-6, 2-2 SEC) are coming off a 17-point loss to Georgia on the road on Wednesday and have lost six of their last 11 games overall. The Commodores (8-8, 0-3 SEC) have lost their first three SEC games and have lost four-straight games overall.
Needless to say, both programs could use a win to help turn things around.
Tennessee heads into Saturday’s contest having won four-straight games against Vanderbilt, and they’ve beaten the Commodores in six of their last seven match-ups. The Vols are led by fifth-year head coach Rick Barnes, who is 6-3 vs. Vanderbilt while at Tennessee. The Commodores are led by first-year head coach and former NBA player Jerry Stackhouse.
Here’s a look at everything you need to know about Saturday’s contest between Tennessee and Vanderbilt that tips off at 6:00 PM Eastern on the SEC Network.
Another Lost Star
Last year, Vanderbilt lost five-star guard Darius Garland to a season-ending injury just five games into the season, and it derailed the Commodores’ entire year. Vanderbilt struggled without their star point guard and leading scorer, failing to win a single SEC game all season. That historically bad performance cost head coach Bryce Drew his job.
Now, first-year head coach Jerry Stackhouse is dealing with the exact same problem Drew had to go through last season.
Vanderbilt lost their leading scorer Aaron Nesmith to a season-ending injury a week ago. Nesmith was the leading scorer in the entire SEC, averaging 23 points a game to go along with 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game.
Without Nesmith, Vanderbilt has struggled. Mightily.
The Commodores have lost both SEC games they’ve played without Nesmith, and neither contest has been close. Vanderbilt lost 69-50 to Texas A&M and fell 75-55 on the road to Arkansas on Wednesday. Vanderbilt has shot just 34.7 percent from the field and 20 percent from three in Nesmith’s absence, averaging only 52.5 points a game.
Vanderbilt is also playing without 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward Clevon Brown. The senior has missed the Commodores’ last seven games, and he was averaging nine points, six rebounds, and two blocks a game before being held out with an undisclosed knee injury. He was leading the team in rebounding before sitting out.
Tennessee has had a plethora of issues down in the post on both offense and defense over the last couple weeks. Even with Uros Plavsic adding his seven-foot presence to the roster earlier this week against Georgia, the Bulldogs still outscored the Vols in the paint, continuing a troubling trend.
The Vols have been outscored in the paint in four of their last five games. Over their last five games, Tennessee has been outscored 132-94 down in the post.
Aside from John Fulkerson getting a double-double in Tennessee’s 56-55 win over South Carolina — scoring 15 points and bringing down 10 rebounds — the Vols’ post presence has been virtually non-existent over the last three weeks, which is, ironically enough, the same timeframe since the Vols lost point guard Lamonte Turner for the season.
Over the Vols’ last five games, Fulkerson has averaged 9.4 points and 5.4 rebounds on 64 percent shooting. Yves Pons, acting as an undersized four and in some cases a center, has averaged 9.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks in that same span while shooting 40 percent overall and 25 percent from three. Freshman Olivier Nkamhoua has come off the bench in all five games as essentially Tennessee’s only post support on the bench until Uros Plavsic was cleared, and he’s contributed 3.0 points and 3.0 rebounds a game over the last five games. Speaking of Plavsic, he scored five points and grabbed three rebounds in 17 minutes in his debut against Georgia.
Luckily for Tennessee, Vanderbilt hasn’t been great in the post either. The Commodores’ 86 total rebounds as a team is dead last in the SEC, and they’re last in both total offensive boards and defensive rebounds as well. Only one active Vanderbilt player averages over five rebounds a game, and that’s freshman forward Dylan Disu, who averages 5.7 rebounds to go along with 5.7 points and 1.0 blocks a game.
Home Away from Home
Lately, Tennessee has made Nashville a second home in basketball.
The Commodores and Vols are only separated by about three hours of driving, and Vol fans usually show up in a big way when UT plays in Memorial Gym in Nashville. Tennessee has rewarded those fans a lot in recent play, winning three-straight games against Vanderbilt on the Commodores’ home court.
All-time, Vanderbilt owns a 54-42 record against the Vols in Nashville, but the Vols have made it a habit of winning in Nashville against the Commodores recently, and Tennessee has dominated the in-state series over the last few years period. The Vols have won four-straight games against Vanderbilt and have won six of the last seven times the two teams have met.
Counting the SEC Tournament, Tennessee has won six of their last seven games against Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Battle of Bad Offenses
Are you ready for a rock fight? Because that’s likely what you’ll be getting in this game.
Neither Tennessee nor Vanderbilt have had much luck on offense lately. The Commodores have been downright putrid without Aaron Nesmith in the lineup, and their 61.3 points per game in conference play ranks 13th out of 14 SEC teams. Vanderbilt is dead last in the SEC in field goal attempts and rebounds, and they’re 10th in both overall field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.
The Vols, however, haven’t been much better.
In SEC play, UT is averaging just 63 points a game, which ranks one spot higher than Vanderbilt. The Vols have committed the most turnovers of any team in conference play, and their overall field goal percentage ranks 12th in the conference.
Tennessee’s defense at least has been pretty good, with their 68 points allowed in SEC play ranking third in the conference. Vanderbilt has given up 75.7 points per game to SEC opponents, which ranks 12th among the 14 SEC teams.
Tennessee only has a few spots left to fill in their 2020 class between now and National Signing Day on February 5th. The Vols’ top remaining target in the 2020 cycle seemed to have shut things down earlier this week, but Tennessee’s coaching staff isn’t giving up on him just yet.
Four-star defensive lineman and Auburn commit Jay Hardy reportedly shut things down in his recruitment earlier this week, seeming to fully close off himself to any other teams still trying to flip him from the Tigers. Tennessee was the only school Hardy was still entertaining aside from Auburn, but other teams had also been contacting him.
According to Patrick MacCoon, a sports writer for The Times Free Press, three of Tennessee’s coaches were down in Chattanooga to watch Hardy play basketball for McCallie School as they took on Chattanooga Christian School. Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, and special teams coordinator/inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer were all in attendance to watch Hardy on the hardcourt.
Tennessee Vols DC Derrick Ansley, DL coach Tracy Rocker and Kevin Sherrer are in the house to watch McCallie football standout Jay Hardy play.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Hardy is a multi-sport athlete who plays both football and basketball for McCallie. He committed to Auburn back on November 6th, choosing the Tigers over the Vols. Hardy had been to UT’s campus multiple times during the 2019 season and had just taken his official visit to campus during the Vols’ win over South Carolina.
But Hardy’s official visit to Auburn the following weekend was enough to seal the deal, and he chose the Tigers over Tennessee during a ceremony at his school.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt still has the ability to make an in-home visit with Hardy before National Signing Day, and it’s expected UT will push for that despite Hardy reportedly shutting down his recruitment earlier this week.
Hardy is the No. 102 overall prospect, No. 9 defensive tackle, and the No. 3 player in the state of Tennessee per the 247Sports Composite rankings.
The Vols signed 21 recruits during the early signing period back in December, and Hardy is UT’s top remaining target in this cycle. The Vols also hope to sign four-star athlete Dee Beckwith, and they have room for another prospect as well. Tennessee has also added Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays and USC wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. as transfers this month, and Nebraska wide receiver Miles Jones is expected to join the roster as a walk-on transfer.
Tennessee will be looking to close out their 2020 class strong between now and National Signing Day on February 5th, but UT’s coaches are also using this time to focus a lot of attention on their 2021 targets. With the Vols expected to only add a couple more prospects to their 2020 class, Tennessee’s coaches are investing a lot of time in getting some of their top targets in next year’s cycle to come visit, and they’re evaluating rising senior prospects a ton as well.
Because of that, Tennessee’s coaches have been sending out a lot of scholarship offers this week, and the Vols have offered a trio of four-stars over the last 24 hours.
Four-star and top-150 wide receiver Jayden Thomas, four-star defensive end Zaire Patterson, and four-star outside linebacker Trenilyas Tatum have all picked up offers from the Vols over the last 24 hours.
Thomas, a 6-foot-1, 198-pound wide receiver/defensive back from Pace Academy in Atlanta, is rated as the No. 131 overall prospect and No. 28 receiver in the 2021 class per the 247Sports Composite rankings. He added offers from Maryland and Arkansas before his recent UT offer, and he also holds offers from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Ohio State, and others.
The dynamic athlete not only excels on the football field, but he also plays basketball and baseball for Pace Academy.
Patterson is a huge pass rushing prospect who measures in at 6-foot-6 and around 215-20 pounds. He’s rated as the No. 285 overall player and No. 17 weak-side defensive end per the 247Sports Composite rankings, and the regular 247Sports rankings list him as the No. 166 overall recruit and No. 11 weak-side defensive end.
The four-star pass rusher plays for Winston-Salem Prep in Winston Salem, North Carolina and is also a multi-sport athlete. As a junior, he racked up 129 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, nine sacks, 27 quarterback hurries, nine forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, three interceptions, and 10 passes defended per MaxPreps. Patterson picked up an offer from Kentucky on the same day the Vols offered him, and he also has offers from Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and others.
As for Trenilyas Tatum, the four-star outside linebacker plays for Mt. Zion in Jonesboro, Georgia. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound pass rusher holds offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arkansas, Maryland, Georgia Tech, and other programs.
Tatum is rated as the No. 222 overall prospect and No. 15 outside linebacker in the 2021 class per the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Tennessee already holds commitments from four prospects in the 2021 cycle. Four-star receiver Jordan Mosley headlines the class, and he’s joined by three-star cornerback Jay Jones, three-star athlete Nate Evans, and three-star athlete Elijah Howard.
The Vols are set to host a number of 2021 prospects this weekend, and the month of January will see UT host a lot of 2021 recruits before the dead period begins in February. Tennessee has already sent out offers to over 300 prospects in the 2021 cycle.
Tennessee signed 21 prospects during the early signing period for the 2020 recruiting cycle back in December, but two of the Vols’ previously committed prospects in the class didn’t sign with UT during the early signing period. Now, one of those commits has officially reopened his recruitment.
Three-star offensive lineman Kyree Miller announced on Friday that his recruitment is “100% open” as of now. Miller committed to the Vols on November 5th just days after taking a visit to campus and a month after getting an offer from the Vols.
The 6-foot-4, 370-pound lineman from Mesquite, Texas was teammates with three-star running back Ty Jordan, who was a target for the Vols for a while in the 2020 cycle. Jordan committed to Texas but ended up decommitting from them and signing with Utah during the early signing period.
“In the summer, my teammate Ty Jordan went up there for an official visit, and Ty had Facetimed me, and he and a coach talked to me and told me that they had liked me and wanted to recruit me,” Miller told me in an interview. “But I didn’t know they were being serious because I was a player that I didn’t think schools like that would recruit me because of my size.
“I called (Chaney) yesterday when I got out of practice, and they were all having an offensive meeting. He put me on speaker so the whole offensive staff could hear me, and he offered me in front of everybody, and everyone was congratulating me.”
Miller tweeted out on December 17th, the day before the first day of the early signing period, that he would be extending his recruitment till February. Now, Miller is free to focus on other schools recruiting him. He is rated as the No. 1,375 overall prospect and No. 88 guard in the 2020 cycle per the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Tennessee signed three other projected offensive linemen in their 2020 class in December. Four-star center Cooper Mays, three-star center Javontez Spraggins, and three-star guard James Robinson all signed with the Vols last month.
Since then, UT has also added a big transfer along the offensive line. Former five-star and Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays has transferred to Tennessee, and he is currently battling for immediate eligibility for the 2020 season. Not only that, but First Team All-SEC guard Trey Smith announced earlier this month that he will be returning to UT for his senior season, giving the Vols a nice boost to their 2020 line.
Tennessee currently has one other prospect committed to them who didn’t sign back in December, and that’s three-star in-state athlete Darion Williamson.