Tennessee (17-11, 9-7 SEC) at Auburn (9-20, 3-13 SEC)
Wednesday, March 6, 9:00 p.m. ET
Auburn Arena (9,121) • Auburn, Ala.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads, 71-37
Probable Auburn Starters
C-Rob Chubb, 6-10, 250, SR, (8.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
F-Allen Payne, 6-6, 215, JR, (7.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.2 spg)
G-Shaquille Johnson, 6-5, 210, FR, (5.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
G-Josh Wallace, 5-10, 170, SR, (3.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.8 apg)
G-Frankie Sullivan, 6-1, 205, SR, (14.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.8 apg)
Key Reserves: Jordan Price (6-5, 225, FR); Chris Denson (6-2, 175, JR); Noel Johnson (6-6, 205, SR); Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7-0, 230, JR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (12.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, .532 FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (7.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
G-Armani Moore, 6-5, 203, FR, (2.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg,)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-5, 180, JR, (16.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, .375 3PT%)
G-Trae Golden, 6-2, 205, JR, (11.8 ppg, 2.8 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
The atmosphere won’t have the feel of March Madness, but for Tennessee’s sake, Wednesday’s game at Auburn might as well be a tournament game.
Lose and the Vols’ NCAA tournament hopes are in major jeopardy.
At first glance, it seems that Tennessee should feel safe. The Tigers have lost 13 of their last 14 games, including seven straight. But coach Tony Barbee’s squad shows a little more life when playing at Auburn Arena. Despite a 2-5 SEC home record, the Tigers have been competitive [lost by less than 10] in every conference home game this year with the exception of Kentucky and Florida.
Does that mean Auburn has a great chance to knock off the Vols? No. But with it being the final home game for five Auburn seniors, it wouldn’t be smart to chalk this one up as an automatic win for the favored Vols.
To prevent the upset, the Vols will need to limit Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan, who comes into this contest averaging just over 14 points per contest. The Tigers could play as many as 11 players and, like Tennessee, could go with four guards at times to push the tempo.
Center Rob Chubb, a 6-10, 250-pound senior, will have the task of containing Jarnell Stokes, who is looking to rebound after failing to reach double-digit scoring in the past two games. Stokes had scored at least 10 in eight of his last nine games.
Tennessee isn’t complaining about the recent scoring outbursts of Jordan McRae, who is coming off a career-high 35 points at Georgia and is averaging 29.8 points per game in the last four contests, but he needs some help in the backcourt.
Point guard Trae Golden doesn’t have to score in bunches for the Vols to be successful, but they’ll need more than the 12 total points he’s put up in the last two contests to be successful down the stretch.
Martin on McRae’s recent hot streak:
"He's just been really efficient when he gets the ball, making his moves, looking for his shots, being aggressive. I don't think he's really hung shots or taken bad shots, I think he's doing a good job of taking what's given to him. Now, he takes some tough shots, but even in the tough shots, in my opinion, his shoulders are still square when he releases the ball. He's done a really good job of scoring in a variety of ways and like I said, he's put himself in position to win that award [SEC Player of the Year]."
The Vols are currently the last team into the NCAA tournament field, according to ESPN.com analyst Joe Lundari. … Tennessee is currently a 12 seed in CBSSports.com’s most recent NCAA tournament projection. … UT dropped from No. 53 to No. 56 in the latest RPI released on Monday. … The Vols are currently tied with Arkansas for sixth in the SEC. … Tennessee holds a four-game winning streak against Auburn. … McRae has hit 21 of his last 33 attempts from beyond the arc. … Martin is three wins shy of his 100th career win as a head coach.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga