The Tennessee Volunteers, hot off their second huge win of the season over a Big East foe, host the Oakland Golden Grizzlies tonight at 7:00 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena. I'm honestly not sure what to make of this game because I've spent the last hour trying to figure out if the designer commissioned to do Oakland's logo really wanted a cat instead and this was as far as he dared to go. But anyway. Yeah, the Vols host Oakland, and if they can't rise any higher than #7 after pounding both Villanova and Pitt, well, I don't know that cat-bear meat can do anything for you. Well, anything that's good, anyway.
Seriously, this is a dangerous team. The Grizzlies just lost by one to a very good Michigan State team and may have pulled it out if not for a disastrous drought early in the second half. The three key players for Oakland appear to be 6'11" senior center Keith Benson, 6'9" senior forward Will Hudson, and 5'11" junior guard Reggie Hamilton. If that looks like a veteran team, well congratulations, you've passed your vision and reading comprehension test. Benson is averaging a little over 18 points per game and is a monster on the boards. Hamilton and Hudson contribute 15.5 and 13.3 points per game respectively, with Hudson apparently the best shooter on the team and Hamilton the biggest three point threat.
Here's a closer look at some key stats:
So, um. Wow. Look at how even most of those numbers are. The first big difference that jumps out at you is at the free throw line, where Tennessee does much, much better both in free throw percentage and free throw rate. Oakland, however, is a bit better from three point range, on the offensive glass, and at protecting the ball. Combine all of that with the fact that the two teams are essentially equal in effective field goal percentage, and what we have is the question of whether Oakland's minor advantages in a couple of categories can outweigh Tennessee's huge advantage at the charity stripe. For those visual types:
So what does good old Ken Pom have to say about this game? Well ol' Ken must really like him some free throws, because he's predicting an 83-68 Vols victory, and he feels 91% sure about it. That sounds about right to me, too, because for all I made of the even stats above, Tennessee is #1 in the RPI and has the nation's second strongest schedule (according to StatSheet), while Oakland is #102 and #72 respectively. Plus, their logo looks half bear and the other half cat, and well, we know a little something about that.
By the way, chest bumps to all y'all for crowd-sourcing of the preview format. I worked in what I could.