Tennessee (15-12, 7-6 SEC) hosts SEC rival Vanderbilt (14-13, 7-7 SEC) on Wednesday night. With their NCAA tournament hopes on the line, the Vols look to bolster their resume with a win over the Commodores. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
Entering the game, both teams sit right on the NCAA tournament bubble as top-50 teams according to RPI. They enter the rivalry game coming off of victories: Tennessee defeated Missouri 90-70 on Saturday afternoon while the Commodores were in Nashville upsetting then-No. 21 South Carolina, 71-62.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes and the young Vols know what’s at stake with four games remaining in the season. “We talk about it. Every week we get together and talk about it,” Barnes said at his Monday press conference. “They know where we are now. I don’t have to mention it anymore… They know where we are and what we need to do and what they know is we need to work hard and we’ve got to win games.”
Tennessee leads the all-time series against Vanderbilt 118-74 and is 70-19 against the Commodores in Knoxville. The Vols came out on top 87-75 in their last meeting on Jan. 14.
Senior guard Robert Hubbs enters Wednesday night’s contest just six points shy of becoming the 48th Volunteer to eclipse 1,000 career points. At 14.3 points per game, Hubbs is Tennessee’s leading scorer.
Tennessee forward Grant Williams will look to continue his stellar freshman season with another big game against Vanderbilt. In the last meeting, Williams scored 12 points, hauled in nine rebounds and blocked four shots. Over the last three games, the freshman is averaging a team-high 21.0 points per game. On the season, Williams is averaging 12.8 points per game, 5.4 rebounds and has a team-leading 51 blocks.
“He is really just scratching the surface. I really think he will be a versatile player who plays multiple positions,” Barnes said of Williams.
In the last meeting with Vanderbilt, Vol freshman Jordan Bone scored a career-high 23 points while dishing out five assists. Bone has been playing well of late, recording 20 assists to just three turnovers in his last four home games.
Barnes loves the production he’s receiving from Bone. “I think what you want is a 3-to-1 ratio, if you can get it, with assists to turnovers,” Barnes said. “That is what you like to have because you want those guys to have the ball in their hands as much as possible”
Vanderbilt comes to Knoxville winners in three of their last four under first-year head coach Bryce Drew. The Commodores are currently the SEC’s best 3-point shooting team this season at 38.3 percent. No other team in the conference has attempted more 3-pointers this season than Vanderbilt (703 total, 26 per game).
Junior guard Riley LaChance spearheads the 3-point happy Commodores, leading the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage at 49.1 percent. Vanderbilt leading scorer Matthew Fisher-Davis is also among the SEC’s leading 3-point shooters. His 39.5 shooting percentage from deep ranks third in the SEC.
The Commodores have four double-figure scorers on their roster. Fisher-Davis leads the way at 15.3 points per game. Forward Luke Kornet is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.3 points per game, followed by Jeff Roberson at 10.6. Roberson also leads the team in rebounding with 7.1 boards per contest. LaChance rounds out the top four 10.1 points per game.
Barnes knows just how capable the Commodores are. “I think they’ve played as tough a schedule as anybody in the country and they’re capable of winning any game that they play,” he said. “We know they do a great job of spreading you out and driving the ball, kicking and get going on the 3-point line… We know how capable they are.”
A win against Vanderbilt would be Tennessee’s third consecutive win over its in-state rival and give the Vols victories in six of their last seven games at Thompson-Boling Arena. A win would give Tennessee its first regular-season sweep of Vanderbilt since 2013. As for the Vols’ tournament resume, it would give them their third top-50 RPI victory of the season (Vanderbilt is currently No. 49 in the RPI).
Following the contest with Vanderbilt, Tennessee will venture out on a two-game road trip. The Vols will face South Carolina on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET before heading to Baton Rouge to face LSU next Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET. Both games will be televised on the SEC Network.
With Tennessee looking to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume, Barnes and the Vols’ coaching staff will have the young team ready to go. Williams will continue to dominate, Hubbs will have a big game and Tennessee’s role players will continue to have an impact. Admiral Schofield, Shembari Phillips and Jordan Bone have been playing well of late and will continue to do so on Wednesday night.The Commodores will have success from the 3-point line simply because of the amount of shots they take from downtown. It’s a matter of how much success Vanderbilt has. It can’t be one of those nights where Vanderbilt headlines the SEC Network because of a 3-point barrage if the Vols want to win.
The Commodores will have success from the 3-point line simply due to the volume of shots they take from downtown. It’s just a matter of exactly how much success Vanderbilt has. If the Vols want to win, it can’t be a night where the Commodores headline SEC Network because of a 3-point barrage.
That said, Tennessee beats Vanderbilt in a close one, 74-70.
Edited by Quinn Pilkey
Featured image by Brad Blackwelder