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Tennessee-Missouri Preview: Can the Vols stop the bleeding against the Tigers?

Should be a low scoring defensive battle.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Suddenly, Tennessee has dropped four of their last five basketball games — three of which were played in Knoxville. The nation’s longest home winning streak is long gone, now the Volunteers are simply looking for consistency on both sides of the ball as this season is in danger of totally unravelling.

Tennessee lost their first SEC game of the year on Saturday against LSU. Freshman point guard Santiago Vescovi poured in 18 points in his debut, but also was charged with nine turnovers. Defensive issues ultimately doomed the Vols, who didn’t have anything for LSU guard Javonte Smart.

A look at Missouri

Next up for Tennessee is a trip to Missouri (SEC Network, 7 p.m. ET) to see Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers. Just like Tennessee, Missouri sits at 8-5 on the year, fresh off an SEC opener loss to Kentucky. Martin’s team has played a tough schedule, taking losses to Xavier, Oklahoma, Charleston Southern and Butler. Missouri has wins over Illinois and Temple.

Tennessee will likely catch a break on the defensive end tonight, taking on the 312th ranked scoring offense in the country. Problem is, they’ll take on the 6th ranked defense in the nation. The Tigers allow just 56 points per contest — a scary number considering what Tennessee’s offense has looked like over the past month.

A couple of junior guards lead the way for the Tigers. Dru Smith and Mark Smith are each averaging 11 points per game, both shooting better than 37 percent from three-point range so far this season. Dru is the creator for the offense, averaging over four assists and two steal per contest. 6-10 big man Jeremiah Tilmon is the main post presence for Missouri, adding nine points per game.

While nothing is particularly impressive about this Missouri team on the individual statsheet, their defensive ability is really going to challenge Tennessee.

Some thoughts on Tennessee

Santiago Vescovi will be starting his second game, tasked with cutting down the turnovers while he powers this offense. Before he arrived, Tennessee didn’t appear to have a creator on the roster. Now they’ve certainly got one, but he’s going to need some help.

He got that help from Josiah James early against LSU, and from Yves Pons. But once again, Tennessee needs more from senior guard Jordan Bowden. Tennessee just isn’t going to win many games when he’s shooting under 20 percent from the field. We’ve all seemingly given up on Bowden leading this team as a scorer, but the Vols can’t afford to get nothing from him.

More importantly, Tennessee has to find their defense again. Rick Barnes’ team was staying in ballgames early in the year without much offense due to that defense. Now struggling at both ends of the floor, the losses are starting to pile up. Tennessee has given up 78, 68 and 78 points in their last three big games. They average just 59 on the year. Getting back to form and keeping SEC games in the 60s is a big key to Tennessee figuring things out this year.

Tonight against Cuonzo Martin, they’ve got a chance to bounce back and stop the bleeding.