For those in search of relief from another Tennessee football coaching search, they need to look no further than their own backyard. The Tennessee Volunteers men’s basketball team currently sits at seventh in the country and are 7-1 on the season.
But their eighth contest of the season will be the toughest one yet and they’ve already played the nation’s second-ranked team in the Kansas Jayhawks.
Their next opponent, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, are not only the top ranked team in the country, but they possess arguably the best offense in the NCAA.
There’s no doubt that this will be the biggest test of the young 2018 season.
- F Rui Hachimura: 22.3 PPG, 58.1 FG%, 71.4 FT%, 1.22 OFF, 5.00 DEF, 0.56 BLK, 30 MIN
Hachimura is arguably the team’s best player on a team that is full of good players. He made the game-winning shot against the Washington Huskies earlier in the week and is lethal in the high post. Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander will have their hands full.
- F Brandon Clarke: 16.4 PPG, 72.1 FG%, 61.1 FT%, 3.44 OFF, 4.67 DEF, 3.44 BLK, 25.9 MIN
Clarke transferred after his sophomore season at San Jose State and actually averages more points while playing less minutes for the Zags. He’s also the best defender on the team, averaging over three blocks per game.
- G Zach Norvell: 18.1 PPG, 44.1 FG%, 83.3 FT%, 38.5% 3PT, 3.78 APG, 1.11 TO, 1.26 STL, 30.9 MIN
Norvell is the perfect guard. He can do it all. He can hit any shot from anywhere on the floor. He’s good on defense too, averaging over four defensive rebounds per game and at least one steal per game.
Gonzaga almost had to go to overtime to keep their undefeated season alive in an 81-79 win over the Washington Huskies earlier in the week. A last second, desperation three by Washington from half court sailed just short after Hachimura hit the game winning-shot with just seconds left on the clock.
The Bulldogs struggled against Washington’s zone defense. Even though they scored 81 points, it was a season-low for a Gonzaga team that averaged over 94 points per game coming into the contest.
Will the Zags correct what they did wrong against Washington or will Tennessee come out and further exploit the issues?
It’s pretty simple. If the Vols can establish an inside presence, hit their free throws, and play defense, then there is no reason to think that they won’t win the game.
That sounds super basic, but it really is the key. Fortunately Tennessee is good at all three elements I just mentioned, even if they have struggled from the charity stripe so far this season.
An additional layer would be Jordan Bone. The Zags tend to struggle with speed, so if he can find ways to create space and make open shots, then Tennessee will win this game.