Tennessee (17-10, 9-6 SEC) at Georgia (13-15, 7-8 SEC)
Saturday, March 2, 1:30 p.m. ET
Stegeman Coliseum (10,523) . Athens, Ga.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads, 93-54
Probable Georgia Starters
C-John Florveus, 6-11, 240, SR, (2.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
F-Donte’ Williams, 6-8, 230, JR, (5.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
F-Brandon Morris, 6-7, 205, FR, (4.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
G-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 6-5, 205, SO, (17.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.1 spg)
G-Vincent Williams, 6-0, 165, SR, (5.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
Key Reserves: Nemanja Djurisic (6-8, 230, SO); Charles Mann (6-4, 205, FR); Marcus Thornton (6-8, 235, JR).
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (12.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg, .535 FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (7.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
G-Armani Moore, 6-5, 203, FR, (2.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg,)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-5, 180, JR, (15.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, .344 3PT%)
G-Trae Golden, 6-2, 205, JR, (12.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.0 apg)
Key Reserves: Skylar McBee (6-3, 195, SR); Kenny Hall (6-9, 230, SR); Yemi Makanjuola (6-9, 250, SO); Quinton Chievous (6-5, 200, RS FR)
The opening tip
What a difference a few weeks make. After a 68-62 loss to Georgia on Feb. 6, the Vols sat at 11-10 and were virtually a non-factor in the NCAA tournament conversation.
Point guard Trae Golden missed that game with a hamstring injury and the Vols wasted a large second-half comeback as the ‘Dawgs pulled away in the final minutes.
Golden returned the next game against South Carolina, the Vols started utilizing a four-guard lineup and they haven’t lost since. Georgia, a team that was in the midst of a five-game winning streak when it knocked off UT, has now lost four of its last five.
That doesn’t mean an automatic W for the Vols, though. They’re clearly playing better on the road, but they remain just 3-6 in true away games this season. Coach Cuonzo Martin is also just 1-2 against Georgia coach Mark Fox.
The Bulldogs are led by guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.7 ppg), one of the most dangerous scorers in the SEC. He’s part Jordan McRae and part Trae Golden. He’s an incredibly efficient shooter like McRae, but can also get to the rim and create opportunities for himself and teammates like Golden. He’s also a lengthy defender who can grab a steal and take it to the other end for an easy bucket.
The Vols have struggled to stop elite guards this season. Caldwell-Pope scored 24 in the first matchup this season. Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson scored 28 and 32 against the Vols in two matchups. Texas A&M guard Elston Turner dropped 38 on them.
Offensively, Tennessee has been led in scoring twice by Golden, McRae and Jarnell Stokes during its current six-game winning streak. McRae has been especially dangerous the last three games – putting up an average of 28 points per contest. His hot shooting combined with the fierce rebounding of Stokes has been a recipe for wins.
Golden’s return to the lineup has been crucial too. The Georgia native has scored in double figures in five of the last six and is averaging 4.3 assists per contest during the streak.
Keep an eye on guard Josh Richardson as well against the Bulldogs. He is expected to draw Caldwell-Pope the most. His game will likely be more measured by Caldwell-Pope’s statistics rather than his own.
Martin on Caldwell-Pope’s game: “He’s very efficient offensively. He doesn’t take a lot of bad shots. He executes well. You’ve got to be able to accept that challenge. Make his looks tough. Deny him the basketball. He can’t be a guy that beats you – and he beat us at our place.”
Tennessee is currently an 11 seed in CBSSports.com’s most recent NCAA tournament projection. . The Vols have four players – Golden, McRae, Hall and Moore – who are from Georgia. . Signee A.J. Davis also hails from the Peach State. Caldwell-Pope is currently projected to be the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, according to NBADraft.net. . Tennessee’s winning streak is the longest active one in the SEC and the second-longest active one in the nation among major conference teams, trailing only Georgetown (10). . Tennessee is third in the league in field-goal percentage (44.8 percent).
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga