Tennessee (12-10, 4-6 SEC) at Vanderbilt (9-13, 3-7 SEC)
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 8:00 p.m. ET
Memorial Gymnasium (14,316) . Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads, 112-70
Probable Vanderbilt Starters
F-Rod Odom, 6-9, 212, SO, (10.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
F-Sheldon Jeter, 6-7, 215, FR, (5.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
G-Kevin Bright, 6-3, 210, FR (6.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 apg)
G-Dai-Jon Parker, 6-3, 215, SO, (5.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 apg)
G-Kedren Johnson, 6-4, 215, SO, (14.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .356 3PT%)
Key Reserves:Josh Henderson (6-11, 220, SO); Kyle Fuller (6-1, 180, JR); Shelby Moats (6-8, 225, SO).
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (12.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg, .566 FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (8.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
G-Armani Moore, 6-3, 195, SR, (2.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg,)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-5, 180, JR, (13.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.8 apg)
G-Trae Golden, 6-2, 205, JR (9.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Key Reserves: Skylar McBee (6-3, 195, SR); Yemi Makanjuola (6-9, 250, SO); Derek Reese (6-7, 218, FR); Kenny Hall (6-9, 230, SR)
The opening tip
The rematch tour continues as the Vols prepare to face a team for the second time this season for the fourth time.
If this matchup is anywhere near as entertaining as the first, it’ll be an enjoyable contest. The Commodores surged back in the final minutes in Knoxville on Jan. 29 to bring the game within a point at the end. Three of their close-range attempts were off the mark in the closing seconds and UT survived in a 58-57 win.
Vanderbilt will be looking to finish the job in Nashville, where it holds a 52-37 all-time advantage over UT. Replacing all five starters (four of whom were drafted) from 2011-12 hasn’t been an easy task for coach Kevin Stallings, but this young team is beginning to grow up.
The ‘Dores played perhaps their most complete game of the season on Saturday in a 67-49 dismantling of Arkansas at Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt lost its three prior games by an average of just two points per game. The progress has been there, now Stalling is just looking for consistency.
Guard Kedren Johnson (14.2 ppg) and forward Rod Odom (10 ppg) have been two of the top threats. Johnson, who was recruited by former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, missed one of the potential game-winning shots in Knoxville last month. He’ll be looking to finish the job on Wednesday.
For the Vols, their hopes again fall on the broad shoulders of forward Jarnell Stokes, who is arguably the hottest player in the SEC at the moment. The reigning SEC player of the week is riding a streak of five consecutive double-doubles.
Who will help him, though? It was point guard Trae Golden who came through in Sunday’s win at South Carolina with 16 points. The junior, who is back in the starting lineup Wednesday night, seemed rejuvenated in Columbia after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Perhaps it will be Jordan McRae, who will be looking to bounce back from hitting just 2 of 10 attempts in the first game against Vanderbilt.
Feeding the ball to Stokes early and often has been the main ingredient for wins recently. However, Tennessee must protect the ball better if it wants to take the next step. Even in a win, UT coughed up 18 turnovers at South Carolina. It had 25 last season at Vanderbilt. Keeping that number under 15 will give the Vols a much better chance to escape Nashville with their second road win of the season.
Tennessee coachCuonzo Martinon adjusting to Vanderbilt’s unique gym, where the benches are on the baseline instead of the sideline: “It is one of those deals where you obviously have to be good to win in that environment. It is a different environment so your players have to adjust, especially in the first half going away from the bench on offense.”
The Vols fell one spot to No. 85 overall in the newest RPI ranking released on Monday. . Golden is one assist shy of 300. He will become the 13th all-time Vols to record at least 300. . Stokes’ nine double-doubles ties him for the league lead with LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant III and Murphy Holloway of Ole Miss. . Only two projected starters – Johnson for Vandy and Stokes for Tennessee – are natives of the state of Tennessee. . Martin expanded his bench at South Carolina. Every healthy scholarship player saw action in the 66-61 win. . A Tennessee loss would give it seven in the SEC – more than it had in all of last season. . McRae leads the SEC in minutes played in conference games (35.8). . Johnson’s father, Curtis Johnson, played baseball at Tennessee in the early 1980s.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga