Tennessee (14-5, 5-3 SEC) travels to Big 12 country to play Iowa State (11-8, 2-6 Big 12) in the fifth annual Big 12/SEC Challenge.
What a week it has been for the Vols: last Saturday they pulled out a much-needed road win against the tough-minded Gamecocks. On Monday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Tennessee as the No. 5 seed in the midwest region playing Buffalo in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. If the Vols receive the five seed, it will mark the highest seed awarded in the tournament since 2008.
A bid in the tournament would mark the end to a three-year drought for the program. Another drought ended on Wednesday when the Vols beat the Commodores 67-62 and swept the season series with their in-state rivals for the first time since 2013.
However, the game ended up a whole lot closer than it should have been. Tennessee took a 32-15 into the half and was in total control. Vanderbilt shot just 29 percent from the field and was 1-of-12 from behind the arc. It was looking like Tennessee fans were going to sit back and watch the second half in total relaxation but that wasn’t the case.
The Commodores cut the lead to a one-possession game with 2:03 left. Lamonte Turner came back with a big three to help the Vols pull out the win.
The Barnes-Bashers were out in full force after the win. One thing the NCAA selection committee won’t care about is a five-point win against Vanderbilt in January. What they will care about is that Tennessee got the win at the end of the day.
Moving on to Iowa State, the Cyclones aren’t having the best of seasons. Playing in the Big 12 is most certainly not easy, but the they are 2-6 in conference play and find themselves at the bottom of the standings. However, they did have a great win on Saturday against the No. 8 Texas Tech Red Raiders. Two days later came a road trip to Texas where Iowa State was flat and looked horrible in a 16-point loss.
This will be a tough test for the Vols as the Cyclones will be rested and at home. They’ve appeared to play their best basketball in front of the home fans.
On the other hand, this Vols team hasn’t played that bad on the road. We can all agree the Missouri game wasn’t great, but that’s the game Missouri plays, and Tennessee still had its chance to pull out the win.
Jordan Bowden is finally back, or at least he was against Vanderbilt.
“Bowden” and “back” in the same sentence is something Tennessee fans have been waiting to hear. The sophomore has been up and down in SEC play. The past two games have been horrible for Bowden with him only accounting for two points on 0-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
With his first made 3-point shot since the Texas A&M game earlier this month, Bowden bounced back in a big way.
He had 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting and we saw a season-high tying five 3-point shots fall for No. 23.
Alexander the Great
I know I mentioned Kyle Alexander in the last preview, but he is worth mentioning again.
The junior big man is having an outstanding span of games protecting the rim. In the past four games alone, Alexander has 11 blocks.
At this point in the season, he has surpassed the number of total blocks he had all of last year. Also, he has more points, steals, assists and is only 23 rebounds shy of last season’s totals. The big man is making a case for the SEC’s Most Improved Player, and maybe even the nation’s.
Grant’s not Glamourous
Grant Williams doesn’t have the most exciting game, but who cares? Tennessee is grateful to have him on this team. Williams is having an exceptional season, and it feels like he is doing it with ease.
Only 3-of-8 from the field, Williams had a hard time getting going against Vandy, but still managed to score 18 points. How do you ask? Williams went 12-of-14 from the line.
What is impossible for defenders is how Williams can score many different ways. He is the saving grace for this team.
Tennessee has had success in the Big 12/SEC Challenge with a 2-1 record. The Vols are also winners of five of their past six games.
With no reason to look too far ahead, Tennessee will be dialed in on Saturday, and the Vols will make life hard on the Cyclones in their own building. I like to Vols in a close one.
The game is at 4 p.m. ET Saturday and will be televised on ESPNU and WatchESPN.
Tennessee 66, Iowa State 58