Tipoff: 7:00 p.m. ET | Thompson-Boling Arena - Knoxville, TN
Live Audio: Vol Network
The good news is, it's not Alabama's defense. The bad news is, it's one of the hottest teams in the country.
Arkansas has won seven in a row to move to 13-2, and they conquered any road demons that were left by winning 79-75 in Athens to open SEC play. That vacancy behind Kentucky for the second best team in the league? The Razorbacks are the answer to the league's most interesting question, separating themselves from Florida's weak non-conference showing to play their way into the Top 25 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, the Top 15 in RPI, and a comfortable six seed in this week's Bracket Matrix.
So yeah, Tennessee is probably going to score more than 38 points. But significant challenges remain.
This one is guaranteed to be more entertaining than Saturday's slugfest, regardless of outcome. Arkansas is the 21st fastest team in college basketball. Tennessee's press - which never really got set against Alabama because it requires made baskets to do so - will also face a challenge with a team that turns the ball over on just 16.3% of its possessions.
The end result is a team leading the SEC in points per possession and 13th in the nation in that department. They have the 11th best offense in the game in Ken Pomeroy's ratings. Make no mistake: the Vols will score more points, but they will challenged far more on the defensive end. This isn't like letting Alabama shoot open threes. The Pigs knock down 38.9% from the arc, second best in the league.
Bobby Portis leads the way, 18.0 points per game to go with 7.8 rebounds. His 6'11" frame could be a big problem for Willie Carmichael, who continues to struggle with foul trouble, and the rest of the Vols who will occupy the paint defensively. Portis' presence inside has made life easier on guys like Michael Qualls outside, dropping in another 15.8 points per night. And it's Rashad Madden who makes the whole thing go, getting 5.2 assists per night to go with 9.4 points. This team goes ten deep and will run and run and run at the Vols.
That's the big question for Tennessee, tonight and beyond: who else can step up? We saw what happens when only Josh Richardson is on, and it's not good enough to beat anyone in the SEC. Can Tennessee play its own game and create its own shots against Arkansas, or will the Vols get caught up in Arkansas' pace and ultimately get run out of the building again?
A successful season certainly wouldn't go down the drain with a loss tonight, but after looking historically bad against Alabama, the Vols need to show improvement against Arkansas to maintain the momentum Donnie Tyndall and company built in the non-conference. We'll see what Tennessee's got against one of the SEC's best.