No. 19 Tennessee (20-7, 10-5 SEC) travels to Ole Miss (12-16, 5-10 SEC) looking to build on an ugly win over Florida on Wednesday and strengthen its hold on the No. 2 spot in the SEC standings. While both teams are coming off of much-need wins, the two are far apart on the court. The Rebels have lost seven of eight and are finishing out the season with a new head coach, while the Vols are buckling up to prepare for a deep postseason run. Here’s what to know before today’s game.
Vols Are Feeling Twenty, Too
Tennessee became one of the final AP top-25 teams to join the 20-win column after a 62-57 win over Florida this week, the first time the Vols have recorded 20 wins in the regular season since Bruce Pearl’s 2009-10 team won 23 games in the regular season.
After losses to Alabama and Georgia and a close win over South Carolina at home, it looked as though the Vols might struggle down the stretch. However, Wednesday night’s win over Florida showed that Tennessee still has the fire to win and all but clinched a double-bye for the upcoming SEC Tournament. With a win over Ole Miss today, the Vols would set up a win-and-clinch scenario for the No. 2 seed in the tournament when they travel to Mississippi State on Tuesday.
New Coach, No Real Momentum For Ole Miss
After coaching Ole Miss to 20 wins in nine of his 11 seasons at the helm, Andy Kennedy announced on Feb. 12 that he would resign following the end of the season. But Kennedy stepped aside just six days later, leaving Tony Madlock as the acting head coach. Ole Miss won its first game under Madlock earlier this week over Missouri, 90-87.
That win snapped a seven-game losing streak in which the Rebels average margin of defeat was by 15 points. That streak included the last matchup between Ole Miss and Tennessee, a 33-point drubbing by the Vols in Knoxville. Now, Ole Miss will try to win back-to-back games for the first time since December.
A Matchup Of Extremes
While the makeup of both teams might be similar, the way that makeup performs on the court ends up on two opposite ends of the spectrums. Ole Miss has given up the most points among SEC teams this season while Tennessee has given up the fewest.
That was on full display three weeks ago during the Vols’ big win three weeks ago — in the second half, the Vols shot an incredible 71 percent from the field, out-scoring Ole Miss 59-36. Under Rick Barnes’ offense, Tennessee is often willing to play deep in the shot clock to find good looks behind an opportunistic defense. Meanwhile, Ole Miss has failed to overcome poor shooting performances during its disappointing season, something that plays right into the Vols’ hands.
Stop The Duo, Stop The Rebels
Stopping Ole Miss usually means holding Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis in check. Burnett, a preseason All-SEC first team selection, leads the Rebels in scoring at 14.3 points per game and assists at 4.3 per game. When he goes, Ole Miss goes. The Rebels also look to Davis, a junior guard, for scoring help. He’s second on the team in scoring (13.2 points per game) and is as active on the glass and on defense as any player on the Ole Miss roster.
During the Rebels’ recent seven-game losing streak, Davis and Burnett failed to ever record double-digit scoring performances in the same game. Even in Ole Miss’ win over Missouri, in which Davis scored 19 points and Burnett just three, the Rebels blew a late six-point lead and only scored six points in overtime. That was even with a 25-point output from sophomore Breein Tyree.
In Tennessee’s last four games — two wins and two losses — the Vols’ guards have only combined for three double-digit point performances: two from Jordan Bowden (13 points against Georgia, 14 against South Carolina) and one from Lamonte Turner (14 points against Georgia). Bowden and Turner are arguably the Vols’ best pure shooters, but Jordan Bone and James Daniel III have shown the ability to score in bunches this season.
Though Saturday is as good a time as any for the guards to break back out, Tennessee may not need them. The Vols got a combined 46 points from Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander behind more than a handful of assists. While Turner poured in 17 points in that game, it isn’t like Tennessee is pushing anywhere close to 94 points a game. The big guys may will the Vols to a win today, but the guards need to start scoring again to keep the momentum through tournament play.