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Tennessee vs Gardner Webb Preview

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vols are back in action today at noon, hosting Gardner Webb of the Big South Conference.  The Bulldogs are already seasoned in major college basketball this year:  Gardner Webb opened at Iowa and then at Vanderbilt, losing by a combined 53 points.  They then returned home for an exhibition win over Toccoa Falls.

Obviously their strength of schedule is off the charts at the moment, but their defense hasn't put up much of a challenge yet.  Gardner Webb is allowing 48.6% from the floor, 41.9% from the arc, and 84.3 points per game.

Tennessee, it may surprise you to know, is currently 78th nationally in the all-important offensive rebound percentage, getting it back on 34.2% of its misses.  It's way too early to know if this will last, but that's pretty good for a team with no true post players coming back from last year.  The Vols are sending their guards to the basket, with Devon Baulkman leading the team with 10 offensive rebounds already this year.

Baulkman was the answer to the "who gets the last shot" question at Georgia Tech, but in overall productivity this has clearly become a three man game.  Kevin Punter is averaging 19.7 points per game, Robert Hubbs 16.7, and Armani Moore 16.3.  After that, the next highest scorer is Baulkman at 6.7.  If the first three can stay healthy, this will probably turn into a year when the Vols need someone else from the other group to step up every night.  If this is a team that continues to improve, I like our flexibility in that department.

I wouldn't expect us to win by 25-30 points here the way Iowa and Vanderbilt did, but hopefully getting behind by 16 to Marshall before storming back to win by 10 has taught this team something early in Rick Barnes' tenure.  The Vols may not be good enough to just show up and win against anyone, but when they lock in and execute they can be very effective offensively, and have been a better rebounding team thus far than we thought they could be.  We'll see if those trends continue today at noon on the SEC Network.