Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Volunteers are just sort of treading water at this point in the season. It’s a strange spot for Tennessee, fresh off a season where they hit the AP No. 1 ranking, and right before they welcome the best signing class in the history of the school.
Unexpected roster losses and mid-season additions have made things even stranger for Barnes and his staff, which have been tasked with seemingly having to start over a few times already this year.
Tennessee sits at 11-6 overall, off to a 3-2 start in SEC play. Against Vanderbilt, we finally saw the Volunteers play how Barnes wanted them to play.
“The transition game was the best it’s been all year, there’s no doubt,” Barnes said on Monday. “It was the best in terms of guys doing what they’re supposed to do and getting where they were supposed to be so we could at least have a chance to get it started.
“Offensively, for the most part, we came down the floor with a purpose, and that’s where we have to continue to build.”
Senior guard Jordan Bowden came back to life, attacking the rim and limiting his three-point looks. Bowden shot 7-11 from the field, adding 21 points. With that production — shocker — Tennessee won by 20+ points. He’s been the missing ingredient through this rough stretch for the Vols, and they need him to back that performance up tonight against a tough Ole Miss squad.
The Rebels are just 9-8 overall and 0-4 in the SEC, but have been competitive in what has been a loaded schedule. Close losses to Memphis, LSU and Arkansas highlight their slate. What makes them competitive? Look no further than guard Breein Tyree.
The 6-2 senior guard is everything to Ole Miss, averaging over 18 points per game. His last three games? 36, 27 and 26 points. In that span, he’s been hitting from three-point range at around a 50 percent clip. The defensive gameplan tonight begins and ends with limiting Tyree’s looks.
“They have three guards who are explosive and can get going,” Barnes said of Ole Miss. “We know it. Breein Tyree is playing really good basketball. They’ve had some injuries that they’ve had to deal with, but Kermit is a terrific coach.”
Like Vanderbilt, Ole Miss struggled on the boards. The Rebels rank 299th in rebounds per game and give up nearly 70 points per contest. Kenpom has Ole Miss ranked 113th in the nation, while the metric has Tennessee at 55th as of Tuesday. Tennessee is favored by 6.5 points, according to the oddsmakers out in Vegas.
Tennessee will be looking to build off of the groundwork laid against Vanderbilt last weekend. They must find a way to build off the attacking offense that we saw in the second half in Nashville, and keep Jordan Bowden engaged and efficient.
Tennessee and Ole Miss will tip-off at 9 p.m. ET in Knoxville on SEC Network.