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Barclays Center Classic Preview

Tennessee's smaller post players will face their biggest challenge yet in a big opportunity for the Vols to open the Barclays Center Classic.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The basketball Vols are in Brooklyn this Thanksgiving for this weekend's Barclays Center Classic.  Tennessee tips at 9:00 PM ET tonight against George Washington.  The game is available on ESPN3 and can be seen in Knoxville on The Knox.  UTSports.com has additional markets the game can be seen in.

The 4-1 Vols are up to 73 in Ken Pomerory's ratings, eighth in an SEC that picked up a big win last night when Texas A&M beat Gonzaga.  Tennessee's strength of schedule is about to get a boost this weekend:  George Washington comes in 47th in KenPom, 60th on offense and 52nd defensively.  If the Vols see Nebraska on Saturday, the Cornhuskers would be the third best team UT has played this year behind GW and Georgia Tech.  But the big prize would be Cincinnati:  12th in KenPom and third in his defensive ratings.  If the Vols want to be in postseason conversation, their RPI can really benefit from simply playing the Bearcats, presumably by going through George Washington.

The RPI will benefit from the Colonials too, because going through them would be an incredibly impressive feat.  Last year George Washington was 22-13 (10-8 Atlantic 10), bowing out in the second round of the NIT; two years ago they were a nine seed in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Memphis by five in the first round.

George Washington has been killing people from inside the arc and at the free throw line.  They beat Virginia despite shooting 4 of 15 from the arc thanks to shooting 45.1% from the floor against UVA's defensive prowess and getting to the line 28 times, hitting 23.  Their 121 made free throws are fourth-most in college basketball so far this year.  Running a tempo similar to the Vols certainly helps in that department.

Like Army, this is an upperclassman bunch.  Senior guard Patricio Garino leads the way with 17.4 points and is 7 of 11 from the arc this year.  6'9" junior Tyler Cavanaugh puts in 14.8 points and 8.0 rebounds.  And 6'10" senior Kevin Larsen, an import from Denmark, is adding 14.0 points 7.6 rebounds.  Which means while the pace will be similar, this should be the first time we see what Tennessee's height disadvantage actually looks like against a good team.

So if nothing else, it will be educational and a boost to the ol' strength of schedule.  The Vols are riding a three game winning streak with a lot of confidence.  We'll see what Rick Barnes squad can do tonight at 9:00 PM ET.