Xavier (7-4) at Tennessee (7-3)
Saturday, Dec. 29, 6:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads, 10-4
Probable Xavier Starters
F-Travis Taylor, 6-8, 216, SR, (11.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
F-Justin Martin, 6-6, 205, SO, (10.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
F-Isaiah Philmore, 6-8, 236, JR (6.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
G-Semaj Christon, 6-3, 187, FR (14.2 ppg, 5.5 apg)
G-Dee Davis, 6-0, 161, SO, (10.8 ppg, 3.7 apg)
Key Reserves: Brad Redford (6-1, 182, SR); Erik Stenger (6-8, 207, JR); Jeff Robinson (6-10, 225, SR).
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Kenny Hall, 6-9, 230, SR, (7.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
F-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (6.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
C-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg)
G-Skylar McBee, 6-3, 195, SR , (7.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg, .328 3PT)
G-Trae Golden, 6-1, 205, JR, (13.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.9 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
Xavier has been a puzzling team so far: Good enough to pound Butler in the season opener for both teams on Nov. 13 and win at Purdue, but bad enough to lose to a below-recent-vintage Vanderbilt team at home, and worse, lose to Wofford at home in its last game before the Christmas break. Xavier has also lost to Pacific in the first round of the DIRECTV Classic but turned around and defeated two considerably better teams, Drexel and Drake, the next two days.
Tennessee has a good chance to continue its momentum headed into Southeastern Conference play. After getting derailed in a couple of low-scoring losses at Georgetown and Virginia, the Vols have won three straight with two non-conference games left, both at home. Besides Xavier, Tennessee plays Memphis on Jan. 4 for what could be the last game in that series for a while.
Part of Xavier’s inconsistency this season could be related to its young guards. The Musketeers start four-star freshman Semaj Christon and sophomore Dee Davis, but they could still have senior Mark Lyons, one of the participants in last year’s brawl with cross-town rival Cincinnati who left the program after last season. He was able to gain immediate eligibility at Arizona, where he leads the third-ranked Wildcats in scoring and assists and has provided the winning points in huge victories over Florida and San Diego State.
In their defense, Christon and Davis are making solid contributions. Christon leads Xavier in scoring, assists and steals and Davis is third on the team in scoring and second in assists.
Tennessee point guard Trae Golden on whether coach Cuonzo Martin is ever satisfied with the Vols’ defensive performance: “No. He told us yesterday that as long as he’s coaching, it’s never going to be acceptable for someone to score on you. So he’s never going to be totally happy with our defense.”
Xavier is one of only four teams in the country that have advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 four times in the last five seasons (Kansas, Michigan State and North Carolina are the others). . Tennessee and Xavier have played 14 times since 1936, but only twice since the new century began. The Vols have won both those games. The most recent was Dec. 22, 2007, when the Vols, then coached by Bruce Pearl, were ranked No. 12 in the country and came away with an 82-75 victory in Cincinnati. Former Vol J.P. Prince delivered a breakout performance in that game with 23 points. . Tennessee has used the same starting lineup in nine of its 10 games this season. The only exception is when senior forward Kenny Hall sat out the Presbyterian game with a tweaked hamstring and junior guard Jordan McRae took his place. Hall returned for the next game against Western Carolina and contributed nine points and a career-high 13 boards. . In its two low-scoring losses at Georgetown at Virginia, Tennessee shot a combined .421 from the free-throw line. Since then, the Vols have shot .766 from the line in three home court wins over Wichita State, Presbyterian and Western Carolina.