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Tennessee vs Georgia Tech Preview

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational- Chaminade v Tennessee  Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Back on the mainland, the basketball Vols host Georgia Tech Saturday at 1:00 PM in what could be their most important non-conference game. The Vols still have home dates with Presbyterian (KenPom #348), Tennessee Tech (#292), and Lipscomb (#260). And the Vols will be at North Carolina and face Gonzaga in Nashville as significant underdogs.

We’ll come back to the trip to the Tri-Cities to face 6-1 ETSU on December 22. That’s a winnable game, but the environment should create an even tougher test than what the Vols will see from the Yellow Jackets. To me, this makes tomorrow’s game the biggest, most attainable win the Vols can land before entering conference play.

Georgia Tech concludes the four month tour of former Memphis coaches, currently the closest we can come to playing the Tigers in football or basketball. After vanquishing Justin Fuente in Bristol, the Vols welcome Josh Pastner to Thompson-Boling Arena. So far the Yellow Jackets have four wins over Tennessee Tech, Southern, Sam Houston State, and Tulane by an average of 13 points, but were vanquished by Ohio 67-61 and Penn State 67-60.

The top four scorers are gone from the team that beat the Vols on the final possession last year in Atlanta. 6’4” freshman guard Josh Okogie has helped make the difference with 18 points per game. Junior center Ben Lammers has definitely benefited from Pastner’s presence: his minutes have doubled and his scoring has quadrupled, now averaging a double-double at 16.7/10.7.

Talented bigs should continue to pose a problem for the small ball Vols, with Kyle Alexander improved but still not a definitive answer. He’s getting only 18.8 minutes per game so far, with freshmen Grant Williams and John Fulkerson picking up the slack in the post despite giving up a few inches. Fulkerson in particular was part of the crunch-time lineup that went deep into overtime with Oregon. Tennessee continues to be led in scoring by Robert Hubbs, and we’re all waiting to see if Detrick Mostella’s hot streak (11 points per game in 20 minutes per game, 38.9% from the arc) can become Detrick Mostella’s everyday basketball. Shembari Phillips continues to see increased minutes at point guard while promising freshman Jordan Bone recovers from a stress fracture in his foot.

Rick Barnes said much of what happened in Maui against Wisconsin and Oregon was this young team learning to believe it can play with some of the best in college basketball. We’ll see if enough of that mentality made it home from Hawaii to take down the Yellow Jackets.