Coming off a great week in the Bahamas, Tennessee is back in Knoxville looking to continue their flashy start. The Vols look ready to play deep into March this season. The team didn’t back down against two ranked teams last week. Beating Purdue was impressive, going toe to toe with Villanova made a statement. Tennessee’s 2-1 visit to the Bahamas strengthened the team’s resume and opened up another realm of expectations for Coach Barnes and the Vols this season.
Bear seniors score in bunches
Mercer is far removed from its March upset of a Duke team that overlooked them a few years ago. While the Bears made it to the finals of the Paradise Jam, they were defeated by Colorado. However, the tournament offered a pretty weak field, allowing the Mercer Bears to make their way to the championship game.
Despite that, Mercer is averaging almost 80 points per game. Ria’n Holland is the Bears’ best scorer, racking up 20.2 PPG and shooting 56 percent from beyond the arc. In seven games, he has made 21 of his attempted three-pointers, averaging three made per game.
Accompanying Holland are Demetre Rivers and Stephon Jelks. Rivers is the Bears’ second-leading scorer, averaging 10.3 PPG. Jelks averages 8.7 per game, adding seven rebounds per game. All three of these players are seniors, giving the Bears the common senior leadership needed to pull upsets. If Tennessee overlooks the Bears, tensions around Knoxville could turn away from the coaching search and put a burning spotlight on Rick Barnes.
Feeding time for No. 2
For whatever reason, there have been times throughout games this season where the Vols forget that Grant Williams is on the floor. He is averaging 15.6 PPG and adding seven rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He is a force to be reckoned with when on the court — Mercer may not have anyone that can truly defend Williams, so look for the big man to have a big game at home.
Another player that needs to be fed the ball is Admiral Schofield. His shoulder may be bothering him, but it was an injury that shouldn’t slow him down too much. Schofield is averaging 12.4 PPG and four rebounds per game. His versatility and athleticism have provided him with a blazing start to the season.
Tennessee’s full-court press is really more of an annoyance to teams than an actual press. The goal is simply to pull time off the shot clock and wear down the guards of the opposing team. However, against Mercer, the press could produce devastating results to the Bears’ hopes of pulling an upset. If Lamonte Turner and the other Tennessee guards can aggravate and frustrate the Bears, Tennessee may get some easy buckets as a result.
Tennessee also needs to make sure that it can make easy “bunnies.” Too often in the Bahamas, Vol fans watched as the team would get an easy opportunity only to blow it by missing a layup or up-close shot opportunities. The Vols need to get that cleaned up to ensure a runaway victory against a team that should be well behind by halftime.
I don’t see Mercer having enough firepower or stamina to match the Vols at home. The fans in Knoxville are itching to celebrate a team doing what it is supposed to do coming off a dismal football season. Thompson-Boling will be rocking in cheer, and maybe expect to hear “Fire Currie,” too.
Tennessee 86, Mercer 52