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Missouri will be Tennessee basketball’s first true test of the season

A big one to open conference play.

By this point in the year, we hoped to have a more accurate picture of how Tennessee basketball would perform against quality competition, particularly stemming from that now-cancelled matchup against the Gonzaga Bulldogs — the clear juggernaut of the season. But because of COVID cancellations, Tennessee has played a slate of games against subpar competition.

Tennessee’s challenging portion of the schedule begins in earnest Wednesday night with a matchup against the Missouri Tigers. During a year in which teams like the Kentucky Wildcats are 1-6, this year seems like an excellent opportunity for the Vols to capture a Southeastern Conference title.

If the Volunteer defense is as good as it appears to be, many teams will have trouble scoring enough points to upend Tennessee. If the offense can play close to as well as the defense, we might well be looking at the Volunteers as national championship contenders come March. It’s too early to speculate about that, however, because the only thing that appears certain is that Gonzaga will likely be there at the end of the year.

As it stands, Tennessee’s AdjO on is ranked 26th in the country, while their AdjD is ranked third in the country. While the offense has shown a greater proclivity for coming to life as of late, there’s still work to be done. But the tune-ups are over and in order to avoid a windfall, it’s time for this squad to shift gears. There’s nothing suggesting they aren’t up for the task, but it’s a long way before the end of the regular season.

Interestingly, one of Tennessee’s bigger tests came in their last game against USC Upstate — a team without a victory — when they came out with an 80-60 win. That’s no reason to worry, of course, especially considering how they played four games over a stretch of eight days.

Missouri, the 14th ranked team in the nation, will go into the Tennessee matchup undefeated at 6-0, with wins coming against Oregon, Wichita State, and Illinois. But SEC play is here and, save for the Kansas matchup January 30, it’s here to stay. In what appears to be a down year in the conference, I’m interested to see what this Tennessee basketball team can do.