Tennessee at Missouri Preview

The Vols held on to number three in the AP poll, 18 votes behind Michigan for number two, 10 votes ahead of Virginia at number four. Those three and number one Duke are also the one seeds in the most recent Bracket Matrix. The Cavaliers and Blue Devils will square off on January 19, with the winner there likely to jump or stay ahead of the Vols unless they lose somewhere else. The somewhere else possibilities this week:

  • Duke: at Wake Forest (158 KenPom) Tuesday, at Florida State (20) Saturday
  • Michigan: at Illinois (106) Thursday, vs Northwestern (51) Sunday
  • Virginia: at Boston College (104) Wednesday, at Clemson (36) Saturday

It’s clearly the week to be on the road at the top of the polls: Tennessee is at Missouri tonight, at Florida on Saturday. The game with the Gators gets primetime treatment: 6:00 PM Saturday on ESPN, though a little luster is off with Florida’s loss to South Carolina to open SEC play. But first, the Tigers.

Last Year

Missouri built a 10-point lead with 6:47 to play, then didn’t make another shot…but it was enough. Tennessee shot 5-of-21 from the arc (23.8%) and 8-of-13 (61.5%) from the line, and couldn’t put it together in the final minute while the Tigers finished off a 15-of-17 performance at the line in a 59-55 Missouri win.

The Tigers earned an eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, but were vanquished by Florida State in the opening round. Then they essentially lost their top four scorers with the graduation of Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett, Michael Porter Jr. heading to the NBA after appearing in just three games, and then his brother Jontay tore his ACL in a preseason scrimmage.

But this is still a veteran team: Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear are seniors, Jeremiah Tilmon played 19 minutes a game last year and Mark Smith did the same at Illinois before transferring in.

The Cuonzo Rorschach

…looks about the same as last year to me: unexpectedly playing without the guy they would’ve counted on most, Missouri started slow: 17-point loss at Iowa State, 15-point loss to Kansas State on a neutral floor, two-point home loss to Temple, all in November. But when they get hot, they burn it down: a two-point overtime win over Central Florida sparked the current six-game winning streak, including a 15-point win over Xavier and a 16-point win over Illinois. And, as noted by many, they haven’t played since December 29. There will be some rust to knock off, but I’m sure there will also be a long and detailed scouting report.

The Tigers are 74th in KenPom and 66th in NET. The tempo (327th fastest nationally) and defense (69th in defensive efficiency) are what you’d expect. But a few things do stand out about this match-up:

  • Get dunked on: Jeremiah Tilmon is 6’10” and Kevin Puryear is 6’7″, but the rest of the major contributors on this team are between 6’2″ and 6’4″. Missouri is 311th nationally in shot blocking percentage. That’s bad news, because the Vols are first in the nation in fewest shots blocked.
  • Opponents average just 62.3% at the line against Missouri. It’s totally random, but does represent the sixth-lowest opponent percentage in college basketball. In their current winning streak, Xavier went 12-of-21 (57.1%) and Illinois 7-of-14 (50%). The Vols shoot 74.2% at the line, 52nd nationally; Grant Williams is 12th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (via KenPom).
  • Mark Smith is the primary shooting threat. After shooting just 23.2% from the arc at Illinois, he’s 30-of-65 (46.2%) this year at Missouri.

It’s the first of two with Missouri this year, with the return match in Knoxville on February 5. Don’t expect everything to resemble a 46-point beat down. Vegas likes the Vols -7.5, KenPom -7. If Tennessee is going to distance themselves from a Cuonzo Martin team, expect them to do so on the defensive end: less viper, more boa constrictor tonight.

7:00 PM ET, ESPN2. Go Vols.

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Vols are +24.94 on KenPom vs. Mizzou at +9.40. If KenPom is only a -7, that’s a heckuva an adjustment for home/away and pace of play. Pace will be slow because Cuonzo would prefer that everyone play in combat boots, but I’m hoping it’s another double digit W. We’ve struggled against these guys at their place. (Of course, we have struggled historically against UGA as well, so there’s that…)


In separate news, VolTwitter will likely be pleased that the greatest coach on the planet and the one Tennessee was stupid not to hire instead of Jeremy Pruitt according to the national media is ‘out’ at Ohio State. Greg Schiano, of course.