Tennessee (5-1) faces its first true road test on Sunday afternoon against the Josh Pastner-led Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-2, 0-0 SEC) at 6 p.m in Atlanta.
The Vols are looking to run their win streak to three games while also trying for their best start under Rick Barnes. With a win, Tennessee will be off to its best start since 2010, when it started 7-0 under Bruce Pearl.
The Vols, who dropped their opening game in the Maui Invitational to in-state foe Chattanooga in 2016, were never able to bounce back from a 1-3 start. Just a short year later, Barnes has his team rolling, and it doesn’t look like the Vols will slow down anytime soon.
Their opponents, meanwhile, have been everything but impressive to start this season. Georgia Tech welcome Tennessee into town on the heels of losing to a 2-5 Grambling team, 64-63. The Yellow Jackets have edged several unranked teams this season, and its lone blemish was a three-point loss to then-No. 21 UCLA, who has recently dropped out of the top 25.
The Yellow Jackets stung themselves in their previous game against Grambling, tipping in a basket on their own hoop to lose the game. It was quite the upset:
Grambling had lost its last 63 games against teams from power six conferences — by an average of 34.7 points, per @ESPNStatsInfo.
They beat Georgia Tech tonight.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) December 2, 2017
THE DEPTH OF TENNESSEE
Tennessee returned all but three players with significant minutes from a season ago. Both Robert Hubbs and Lew Evans graduated, and guard Shembari Phillips transferred.
The Vols played 11 players in the first half against Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament and had a 14-point lead at halftime. This is the deepest team Barnes has had in Knoxville, and while many coaches are pulling top-five recruiting classes and some facing NCAA violations, Barnes and the Vols have boded well with their under-the-radar recruiting.
The orange and white played five freshman with an average of at least 14 minutes per game last season. The experience for guys like Grant Williams, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden has been a big boost for the team this season.
Williams and Bowden were second and third respectively in minutes played a season ago for the Vols. Its early in the season, but the Vols are averaging 80 points per game so far, six points ahead of last seasons points per game total.
GEORGIA TECH’S BIG THREE
Georgia Tech boasts a strong, well-rounded scoring trio that combines to score 42 of its 62 points per game. The Yellow Jackets top three scorers all average a hair over 14 points a game and also combine for 18 of the teams 33 rebounds per game.
Freshman Jose Alvarado is the teams leading scorer, with 14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. The 6-foot guard from Brooklyn, New York scored a season high 22 points in the team’s previous game against Grambling.
Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech’s senior frontcourt leader, averages 14.2 points per game, but that isn’t where he makes his biggest impact for the Yellow Jackets. Lammers is a defensive force down low, and he even blocked six shots against Boston College last season.
Ben Lammers wasn’t letting ANYONE near his basket this afternoon! ✋🏻 #TogetherWeSwarm pic.twitter.com/nPQuk8pged
— McCamish Maniacs (@McCamishManiacs) November 19, 2017
Lammers has 23 blocks and averages 3.8 blocks per game this season. He had had 125 blocks a season ago and will be tough for an experienced Tennessee frontcourt in this matchup.
Look for Alvarado and Georgia Tech’s senior backcourt leader Tadric Jackson, the Georgia native averaging 14.3 points a game this season, to cause a lot of disruption in the Vols back court in the game, as the duo combines for nearly three steals per game.
GUARD PLAY FOR TENNESSEE
As impressive as the Vols frontcourt has been so far this season, the backcourt has been just as good. When Robert Hubbs graduated a season ago after leading the team in minutes, the Vols went out and got two transfer guards in Chris Darrington and James Daniel III.
Both guards had to earn playing time this season, and neither have disappointed. Daniel III, who led the NCAA in scoring two seasons ago at Howard, has contributed in almost every category except scoring.
@Vol_Hoops Senior James Daniel III had 10 assist on the night. That’s the most assist by a Tennessee player since Trae Golden had 11 vs ULM in 2011.
— SmokeyLowdown (@SmokeyLowdown) November 15, 2017
The senior from Hampton, Virginia, averages six points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals, while only committing 1.2 turnovers per game so far this season.
“Playing at Howard and (playing) at (Tennessee) is two different styles of basketball … coming in, you want to do what comes naturally, which is the easiest thing, but (Rick Barnes) has challenged me … playing with great scorers has really made the game a lot easier for me.” Daniels said in the postgame against Mercer after posting ten assists for the second time this season.
The Yellow Jackets can keep things close in this matchup, but expect this to be a double-digit win for the Vols. Tennessee likes to get out to quick starts, but seems to let off of the gas pedal late.
Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander and Admiral Schofield will make life tough for the Yellow Jackets, as Ben Lammers will have a little too much on his plate throughout the game to handle on his own. Tennessee has been too big and too tough for teams this season:
Something to keep in mind: Tennessee ranks 9th in the country in offensive rebounding (15.4)
Mercer's depth in the frontcourt is a concern. Jelks and Ringer must stay out of foul trouble to have a chance.
— Hayes Rule (@Rule0021) November 29, 2017
This matchup looks good on paper, but the Vols are simply too deep, especially with Yves Pons coming on as of late for Tennessee. The Vols like to play outside-in, and will get off to a big game because of the guards.
However, because much of Tennessee’s recent momentum flows through Williams and his down-low company, Lammers’ defensive prowess will keep the Yellow Jackets within 15 points.
Tennessee 72, Georgia Tech 61