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Tennessee at ETSU Preview

NCAA Basketball: East Tennessee State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s Tennessee team may not be good enough for this to matter, but right now playing at ETSU is a great idea. The Bucs are 9-2 including a 67-65 win in Starkville last week, are 81st to Tennessee’s 82nd in KenPom, and are currently 63rd in RPI. Playing ETSU (or Chattanooga, or Middle Tennessee) on the road isn’t just good for the in-state basketball crowd, it’s good for the tournament resume.

The Bucs almost got there last year, vanquished by Chattanooga in the SoCon finals by six points. Along the way they lost in Knoxville a year ago today, a 15-2 run to close the deal for Tennessee in a nine point win. Steve Forbes’ second team is led by senior guard T.J. Cromer, averaging 17.2 points and 37.8% from the arc while taking more than eight threes per game. The good news for the Vols is a relative lack of size for ETSU compared to everyone we’ve been playing: Indiana transfer Hanner Mosquera-Perea is 6’9”, but the rest of the top six scorers are 6’6” and under.

This squad is full of shooters: 48.9% from the floor is 32nd nationally, 39.3% from the arc is 46th. They’ve really struggled at the free throw line though, just 66.5%. The Vols are 23rd nationally in that department at 76.4% on the season so far. Tennessee would love for the game to be decided at the line, a strategy that almost worked in the comeback against Gonzaga, instead of from the arc: Lamonte Turner has been a consistent threat (38.8%) and Shembari Phillips is still 10 of 14 on the year from three, but Detrick Mostella and Jordan Bowden have both cooled off significantly.

Despite a tougher night against Gonzaga’s size, the Vols have to like what they’re getting from Robert Hubbs. After scoring just six points in the overtime loss to Oregon, Hubbs has averaged 18.6 in Tennessee’s last seven games. Grant Williams was in foul trouble against Gonzaga but still had 11 points in 15 minutes after scoring 30 against Lipscomb.

Johnson City’s Freedom Hall (hey, Elvis was there!) won’t be confused with Chapel Hill, but the 5,600-seat venue is sold out and should be a unique environment for the young Vols to deal with. You can watch locally on MyVLT in Knoxville or WEMT in the Tri-Cities, or catch the game online via Watch ESPN at 7:00 PM.