If you're looking for a low-stress night with this basketball team, tonight may be it until December 19. Between Texas Southern this evening and Tennessee Tech in 30 days, the Vols are in Orlando next week to face Santa Clara and potentially Kansas, Marquette, Georgia Tech, or Michigan State, then home for Kansas State and Butler, then at NC State. So if things go the way they went for the Vols at VCU last week, you'd better make sure you get this one.
Texas Southern actually made the NCAA Tournament last year as a First Four potential 16 seed, losing in Dayton after winning the SWAC Tournament. Looking at their schedule the last few years there's a stark contrast between what they've done in the non-conference and in league play. In the last four seasons Texas Southern is 7-40 in the non-conference and 56-16 against SWAC foes with a pair of league titles.
Much of the disparity comes from the Tigers playing a number of name foes in the early part of the year, so facing the Vols and Thompson-Boling Arena won't be anything out of the ordinary; they just lost at Indiana 83-64 in their last game out, following an 86-62 loss at Eastern Washington. They are led in scoring by 6'8" Tonnie Collier, 6'1" Deverell Biggs and 6'5" Chris Thomas, all averaging double figures.
If you missed the Vols against VCU, you missed Turnover Fest 2014: 19 for the guys in orange, but the Vols also forced 18 from the Rams. Perhaps it was better known as Missed Free Throw Fest 2014; whether from pace of play or referees once again trying to set the tone early in the season, the Vols shot 33 free throws and VCU an even 40, and neither team was any good at it. Tennessee could've been in the game had they shot better than 51.5% at the line, or they could've been completely embarrassed had VCU hit more than 60%.
But where Donnie Tyndall seemed to be most displeased was in the rebounding department, where the Vols went -9 to the Rams and struggled to check offensive rebounders out of a zone defense. Again: no Stokes, no Maymon, and no man-to-man defense means so much about rebounding is completely new for this team even for the guys who played last year. On that note Kevin Punter did an okay job filling the box score with eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds in a team-high 34 minutes. Punter was 2 of 8 from the field; most of UT's shots came from him, Armani Moore (3 of 9 for 8 points with 7 rebounds), and the perimeter duo of Josh Richardson and Detrick Mostella.
Richardson got baptized by fire against VCU and turned the ball over seven times. But he still added 17 points and six rebounds on 6 of 13 shooting. Mostella came in off the bench and fired away, 5 of 13 from the floor and 3 of 8 from the arc for 17 points in 22 minutes. The word on him is streaky, and he also turned the ball over four times in those 22 minutes, but you like figuring out right away who's not afraid to take control offensively.
A player to keep an eye on tonight: Jabari McGhee. Very little was said about the true freshman coming in, overshadowed by Dominic Woodson and others in the post. But McGhee was Tennessee's most effective option down low, getting seven points (and could've had more if not for three missed free throws) and six rebounds in just a dozen minutes. There are lots of players who seem really close right now, so every little thing counts. Tennessee played 11 guys against VCU (though Ian Chiles and Tariq Owens got just a minute each).
Tennessee needs to get this one to avoid the panic button, because if Texas Southern comes into Knoxville and wins I'm not sure when we'll have a better opportunity for the next month. The Vols need a good performance to get the VCU taste out of their mouths and get ready to go play in Orlando, where they may not beat Kansas but could sneak up on some others. Neither VCU nor Texas Southern may tell us a whole bunch about this team, but I'd rather be clueless in victory.
7:00 PM ET - Fox Sports Net