Western Carolina (4-7) at Tennessee (6-3)
Friday, Dec. 21, 7:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: Fox Sports South
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads, 6-1
Probable Western Carolina Starters
F-Tom Tankelewicz, 6-4, 180, JR, (11.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, .424 3PT)
F-Tawaski King, 6-8, 245, JR, (12.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
G-Preston Ross, 6-4, 220, JR, (8.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
G-James Sinclair, 6-3, 180, SO, (7.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
G- Trey Sumler (6-2, 175, JR), 15.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, .447 3PT)
Key Reserves: Mike Brown (6-3, 175, FR); Brandon Boggs (6-5, 190, JR).
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Kenny Hall, 6-9, 230, SR, (6.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
F-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (6.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.0 spg)
C-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (11.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.1 spg)
G-Skylar McBee, 6-3, 195, SR , (6.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg, .325 3PT)
G-Trae Golden, 6-1, 205, JR, (13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.6 apg)
Key Reserves: Jordan McRae (6-5, 178, JR); Brandon Lopez (6-1, 178, SO); Quinton Chievous (6-5, 201, R-FR); Yemi Makanjuola (6-9, 250, SO); D’Montre Edwards (6-6, 220, JR).
The opening tip
Tennessee has won the last three games against Western Carolina and six of seven overall, but that one loss serves as a reminder that anything can happen. It came in 1993, when Wade Houston was the Vols’ coach, and the result elicited a great quote from then-WCU coach Benny Dees. “Teams from the K-Mart league shouldn’t beat teams from the SEC,” he said. Presumably, Southern Conference officials didn’t like their league being compared to a discount retail store, but Dees’ point was well taken. And Houston was fired after a 5-22 season.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin has a more recent example of an upstart mid-major team coming into Thompson-Boling Arena and pulling off an upset. It was just a year ago that Austin Peay beat the Vols, 74-70, so they will be wary of the Catamounts, coached by Larry Hunter, who has been successful at several levels of college basketball and has won 620 games in his career. Hunter’s teams play an up-tempo style and hoist a lot of 3s.
Tennessee had done an excellent job defending the 3-point line this season, at least until the second half of its last game, against Presbyterian on Tuesday night. The Blue Hose was 1 of 13 from 3 in the first half and 7 of 10 in the second. Still, the Vols are allowing their opponents to shoot just .265 from behind the arc. NCAA stats haven’t been updated since games of Dec. 16, but that total would still be ranked in the top 20 in the country.
Any team that can crank the 3 the way Western Carolina can is potentially dangerous. Georgetown found that out the other day in an 81-68 victory over the Catamounts, who made 11 of 22 3-pointers, including 6 of 11 by Tom Tankelewicz, who leads the SoCon and is 14th in the nation with his average of 3.3 3s per game.
“Going into the game, you probably couldn't tell by our performance, we wanted to limit their 3-point attempts,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “I think their first three or four baskets were 3-pointers, and then a four-pointer. We told them going into the game (Tankelewicz) is probably the best shooter we've faced all year. I think these guys sometimes just think we're just joking around, but after he banged four or five of them, we were a lot more attentive.”
Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter on Catamount swingman Tom Tankelewicz: “He can really shoot it and he does some other things well too, but he's really our X factor. I think every team needs a guy that can light you up a little bit.”
Senior forward Kenny Hall didn’t start against Presbyterian on Tuesday because he had tweaked a hamstring, but he returned to practice on Wednesday and will probably be back in the lineup. … Fortunately for broadcasters calling the game, Western Carolina’s Kenneth Hall, a 6-7 sophomore, isn’t likely to see action. … The Vols and Catamounts have played two common opponents, Wichita State and Georgetown. WCU lost 79-63 at Wichita State and 81-68 at Georgetown. … The Catamounts are 4-7 overall (the schedule has also included Illinois and solid mid-majors Austin Peay, UNC Asheville and Eastern Kentucky), but they already lead the SoCon North Division at 2-0 after beating Appalachian State and Furman. … The 13 first-half points Tennessee allowed Presbyterian were the least against the Vols in an opening half since Georgia managed 13 on Feb. 4, 1998. Tennessee won that game, 77-48.