Preview: Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Tennessee plays its first game as the No. 1 team in the nation when the Volunteers go after a 13th straight victory Wednesday night at struggling rival Vanderbilt in an SEC contest. Tennessee won its first four league games by an average of 25 points before holding on to edge Alabama 71-68 at home on Saturday to vault into the No. 1 spot for the first time since 2008.
“It’s all about keeping it here, letting it last,” Volunteers leading scorer Grant Williams told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “For me, I’ve always thought my goal was to hang banners rather than worry about halfway through the season. If we get caught up in that, we’re not going to meet what our goals are.” Tennessee won both meetings last season, including a 92-84 win at Nashville as Williams poured in 37 points, and will attempt to extend Vanderbilt’s overall losing streak to six games. The Commodores, who lost leading scorer Darius Garland (16.2) to a season-ending injury after five games, are primarily depending on freshmen and sophomores to lead them to their first SEC victory this season. “Unfortunately I can’t create any drills or anything in practice that equals experience, and so a lot of times we do it well in practice and you get into the game and it’s usually underclassmen that just don’t make the simple play we practiced,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew told reporters.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT TENNESSEE (16-1, 5-0 SEC): Williams, a junior forward, is averaging 18.9 points (19.7 the last three) on 56.1 percent shooting from the field and grabbing 7.5 rebounds per contest. Senior guard Admiral Schofield, who recorded his second double-double of the season Saturday, averages 17.4 points and 6.5 rebounds while connecting on 45.1 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Junior point guard Jordan Bone (13.2 points) tops the team in assists (6.4) and senior forward Kyle Alexander (9.9 points) leads the Volunteers in rebounding (7.8) along with blocks (1.9).
ABOUT VANDERBILT (9-8, 0-5): Freshman forward Simisola Shittu leads the team in scoring (13.6) on 49.7 percent shooting from the floor – despite averaging 9.5 the last four games – and rebounding (7.6). Sophomore guard Saben Lee scored 30 points combined in the last two games to push his average to 12.4 and he leads the Commodores in assists (3.5). Senior guard Joe Toye (9.6 points) is just 3-of-10 from the field the last two games and freshman forward Aaron Nesmith (9.2) has raised his production level the last three contests, averaging 15 points and five boards.
1. Vanderbilt junior F Matt Ryan averaged almost 11 points the first 13 games, but managed 15 combined in the last four.
2. Tennessee junior G Jordan Bowden is averaging 17.6 points the last five games to push his season mark to 10.8.
3. The Volunteers sat second in the nation in field-goal percentage (51.1) and Vanderbilt (44.6) was tied for 183rd through Monday.