Tennessee will face its first test of the season Wednesday when it heads to the Bahamas to participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which runs through this week on Paradise Island.
The Vols play No. 18 Purdue at noon on Wednesday, a team which has been ranked in the top 25 for 40 consecutive weeks, and for good reason. The Boilermakers roll out four seniors in their starting lineup and have scored more than 100 points in three of their first four games.
Tennessee, on the other hand, only has a handful of upperclassmen who get much playing time, but the Vols possess a group of explosive, young players who have benefited from a full-year of SEC play.
Here’s what to look for on Wednesday:
When Purdue faced Marquette last week, coach Matt Painter saw that he had an advantage in the paint. His game plan revolved around dumping the ball to 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas, who either attacked the rim or kicked it out to an open shooter. The first half didn’t go as planned as the Boilermakers failed to convert on a single three-pointer. Purdue went into the halftime break with just a two-point lead, but came back and executed, going 4 of 7 from deep in the second half and trouncing Marquette by 15.
Haas is averaging 13.5 points and six rebounds a contest so far this season, but Purdue also has another guy who could give the Vols a headache on the inside. Matt Haarms, a 7-foot-3 freshman, got his fair share of playing time against Marquette, and combined with Haas to go 11 for 19 from the field.
Purdue could follow a similar game plan when they face the undersized Vols. A healthy Derrick Walker may have an significant part in the defensive strategy, but Kyle Alexander, John Fulkerson and Grant Williams will have their work cut out for them.
Scoring in Bunches
So far this season, Tennessee has shown that it can pull off big runs, but Purdue has also been on an offensive tear. The Boilermakers are averaging 102 points per game, and in their most recent game against Fairfield, converted on 13 3-pointers in just the first half on their way to a school-record 19 3-pointers in a blowout victory. Fairfield is a defensive-minded team, and came into the matchup with Purdue allowing an average of just 62 points a game. They gave up 58 in the first half.
Senior guard Dakota Mathias is a player to keep an eye on. He has scored in double digits in each game and is 13 of 16 from deep this season. If Tennessee can’t get out on the perimeter to challenge him, it could get ugly early.
Tennessee and the Fast Start
Tennessee’s two wins have been characterized by big first-half runs ignited by efficient shooting coupled with stifling defense. It’s no secret that the Vols’ 28-0 run against Presbyterian and 32-0 run against High Point were back-breakers, but it would be huge if Tennessee got out to a fast start in their first top-25 matchup.
Putting pressure on Purdue early will affect how the Boilermakers play on offense. Purdue is best when it gets to control the tempo and use the shot clock as it likes, and if Tennessee can force turnovers and get out in transition for some easy buckets, Purdue will be forced to play behind for the first time this season.
Redshirt senior guard James Daniel III is someone the Vols will look to for leadership. In Tennessee’s close exhibition bout with Clemson, Daniel III came up clutch in the final minutes and helped Tennessee escape with a win. He’s been in these late-game situations before, and he may be ready to step up in a big way after logging 10 assists against High Point, the first time a Vol has done so since 2011.
Purdue is a solid team, inside and out. And while Tennessee will certainly test them, the Boilermakers’ experience will be evident late in this game. This is the first step for Tennessee in a long season that, for right now, looks promising.
Purdue 90, Tennessee 80