Tennessee Volunteers Preview Capsule
SB Nation Community: Rocky Top Talk
Record: 17-4 (5-2)
Season Thus Far: Tennessee started strong, streaking through the non-con with only two losses. Then, disaster struck when four players--including now-dismissed star Tyler Smith--were suspended after legal struggles. The Vols, though, seemingly improved for a few weeks after that incident, even managing to upset the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks in their final non-con game. Lately, though, UT has come back down to earth. Although each of the suspended players other than Smith are now back, UT has struggled in its last four games. It has gone 2-2, with a blowout to UGA--the Dawgs only SEC win--and Vandy and narrow victories over seemingly inferior Florida and LSU teams.
Team Strengths: Scoring Offense, Scoring Defense, FG%, FG% Defense, 3FG Defense, Turnover Margin
Team Weaknesses: 3FG%, FT%
What to Expect: The Vols have very respectable statistical metrics, as the above suggests. However, the question with this team is which UT shows up. Do we get the team that took out Kansas, or do we get the team that almost lost to hapless LSU? If the former, we can expect the Vols to do all sorts of things to give us trouble. Even without Smith, UT is still a fairly balanced team. Wayne Chism is a big man that can beat you in a variety of ways, and Scotty Hopson is quickly becoming one the league's better wing men. Both will present matchup problems for us, particularly Hopson, who has a unique combination of size, accuracy, and penetration ability that will make it difficult for us to contain him. Lakeem Jackson will likely get the unenviable task of guarding Hopson, and it will be a gut-check assignment for the freshman Gamecock. Defensively, UT is, even during the recent slide, very good, disciplined, and a tough matchup for us.
Of course, we could also see the recent version of UT, which has struggled to maintain its offensive identity, as 59- and 61-point games against questionable Florida and LSU defenses suggest. I think the key to prompting a reappearance of that UT will be to get Hopson off his game. Barring another block party, Chism will get his points against our typically soft interior defense. If Hopson also gets plenty of open shots and is able to drive into the lane a lot, it could open everything up for UT, at which point they'll leave us in the dust.
Prediction: As the above suggests, this one is tough to call. I think you are going to see Tennessee continue to struggle a bit; they won't be bad, but you get the impression at this point in the year that the victory over Kansas was a flash in the pan from an inspired team. However, they're still going to be tough on the road. We really need someone in addition to Devan Downey to step up in this game, and against a stiff UT defense in Knoxville, I'm not sure how confident I am in that happening. I'm going with a 2-4 point Vols victory.
What It Means: I don't think this is a must-win game. The Vols visit to Columbia probably is, but we can afford to lose a couple of road games to teams of Tennessee's caliber. That said, a win here would be huge and would put us firmly on the bubble, perhaps on the right side even.