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Once More Without Margin: The Tennessee - South Carolina Preview

Picture unrelated. (Also, this is the only picture I could find of Skylar McBee without a giant caterpillar on his face, and yes, I know his arm is fortunately positioned.)
Picture unrelated. (Also, this is the only picture I could find of Skylar McBee without a giant caterpillar on his face, and yes, I know his arm is fortunately positioned.)

At some point, the narrative is simple. Tennessee needs wins, and they need them now. It'll happen simply: defense and just enough offense to scrape by.

Some of it - a lot of it - is tempo, if I had to guess (I lack the KenPom subscription to be sure), but Tennessee has yet to allow 70 points in a single game this year. And by this year, I mean this actual year - the last team to top 70 was Charleston, and that was back in December. Why's that matter? South Carolina has struggled to score all season, and has only topped 70 once this year (again, 2012 only - 79 against Western Carolina, and that was over a month ago). The Gamecocks are currently mired in a 1-7 slump, not coincidentally their record in SEC play, and have one win on the road all year.

Yeah, one. And that came against Clemson, who fell back to orbit early this year instead of waiting until February to falter. Tennessee, meanwhile, has played far better at home than on the road, the game's in TBA, and it's at night.

I think we need to know what has to happen. There simply isn't room in the schedule and hope for post-season play to suffer a loss to South Carolina, especially at home, and Tennessee's done well against teams below them in the KenPom ratings so far this season (8-3, with those three losses coming in a two-week span that most of us are aware of and the Chaminade game thrown out because that's too easy). That point shouldn't be lost against a South Carolina team that should be overmatched - and a team who's giving up 30 spots in the KenPom ratings to the Vols.

I bring this up because the gameplan for the Vols at this point is simple; perimeter shooting (thank you, Skylar McBee and depending on the day, someone else) and forceful paint play (thank you, Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes) on offense, and tight, suffocating D. There's enough raw talent floating around to make things dangerous - and, odd as it may sound, I'm going to miss Swipa this time next year, although I don't think he'll do much tonight - but by and large, that's the plan. Ugly, workmanlike play, get the job done, go home and ice your knees, come back tomorrow.

Learn it. Embrace it. Watch parts of tonight with your eyes shielded because of the lockdown job that the Vols are slamming on the likes of Malik Cooke (last seen picking himself up off the floor after getting obliterated by the likes of Anthony Davis, but I know that feeling) and Bruce Ellington. This should be ugly, but it should look closer to the Auburn game than the Georgia game, if I had to guess; that first half was weird.

McBee is in line to get the start again over Trae Golden; that certainly worked well the last time out, and if Golden's taken to the change, then there's no reason at all to change this. Maymon and Stokes should control the boards - there are no great rebounders on the Gamecocks - and this should be a win.

We hope. The game tips at 8 PM; game thread goes live an hour beforehand, as always.

Go Vols.