The final non-conference test before SEC play begins comes today at 1:00 PM ET as Tennessee State rolls into Knoxville. The Tigers went 10-51 the last two seasons but have gotten off to an admirable start this year, 9-3 with their only losses to Ohio, Middle Tennessee, and Illinois State, all Top 200 KenPom teams. The Tigers themselves are down at 234 in those ratings, with no wins over any team ranked in the Top 270.
Meanwhile Tennessee checks in at 85 in KenPom, 6-5 having generally taken care of the business they should have handled in the non-conference. This will be the last time this season the Vols face a team this far down the ladder thanks to an improving SEC.
Senior guard Keron Deshields leads the Tigers in scoring with 16.1 points per game, and 6'6" forward Wayne Martin is averaging a double-double with 13.4 points and 11.1 rebounds. So far this year TSU has held teams to just 39.3% from the field, but again, consider the competition.
Tennessee meanwhile continues to excel in unusual categories. The Vols are 14th nationally in fewest turnovers (113 in 11 games) with a converted shooting guard/scorer at point and a faster pace. And Tennessee is 22nd nationally in blocks despite having no real post presence returning from last season. Armani Moore has rejected 21 shots this year, and budding post presence Kyle Alexander has a dozen. Despite defense not being our calling card, the Vols have also been better than advertised there: opponents shoot 40.6% from the floor and just 30.2% from the arc against UT.
TSU has never beaten the Vols, falling by 21 points last season. They'll look to improve and the Vols will look to move to conference play on solid footing at 1:00 PM on the SEC Network.