Tennessee (0-0) at Xavier (1-0)
Tuesday, Nov. 12, 9:00 p.m. ET
Cintas Center (10,250) . Cincinnati, Ohio
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads 7-1
Probable Xavier Starters
G-Semaj Christon, 6-3, 190, SO, (15.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.6 apg)
G-Brandon Randolph, 6-1, 190, FR
F-Justin Martin, 6-6, 205, JR, (7.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
F-Erik Stenger, 6-8, 207, SR, (1.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
C-Matt Stainbrook, 6-10, 263, JR
Key Reserves: James Farr (6-9, 240, SO); Jalen Reynolds (6-9, 220, FR); Isaiah Philmore (6-8, 230, SR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Darius Thompson, 6-5, 180, FR
G-Jordan McRae, 6-5, 185, SR, (16.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, .364 3PT%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (7.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, .473 FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, JR, (12.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, .531 FG%)
Key Reserves: Robert Hubbs III (6-6, 205, FR); Armani Moore (6-5, 215, SO); Antonio Barton (6-2, 180, SR); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR)
* Stats are from the 2012-13 season if applicable
The opening tip
Year 3 of the Cuonzo Martin era officially begins in Cincinnati on Tuesday night at Xavier. It’s a big year for Martin and the Vols. There’s the sense that Martin’s overall rebuilding job will be judged by not only if Tennessee can make the NCAA tournament this year, but also how far the Vols can make it once in.
But that’s still months down the road. Martin, as always, is focused on the next opponent and that’s the Musketeers, a team transitioning from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East.
A regular in the Big Dance over the past few years, Xavier had a slight setback in 2012-13 with a 17-14 campaign. That certainly doesn’t make the Musketeers an easy season-opening opponent, however. They came to Knoxville last year and only lost by four points (51-47). And this squad, led by NBA prospect point guard Semaj Christon, is looking to make a splash in its first year playing in the Big East.
Tennessee, meanwhile, should get its first look at point guard Antonio Barton, who missed the team’s two exhibition games with an ankle injury. Freshman Darius Thompson is expected to get the start at PG, but Barton has been cleared to play.
Tuesday also marks the expected debut of a highly-touted freshman class that includes guard Robert Hubbs III and forward A.J. Davis, both of whom will likely see minutes off the bench. Senior forward Jeronne Maymon, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will also see the floor in a meaningful game for the first time in over a year and a half.
The Vols will be looking to start the season off better after slow starts in the first two years of Martin’s tenure. A win at Xavier would certainly be a step in that direction. A loss, though not detrimental to UT’s long-term success this year, would be frustrating for a team that’s had to scramble the last two years to build its NCAA tournament resume late in the season.
“They’ll grind you out. They run a half court offense. They’ll run in transition if they have opportunities. They’ll run the set plays and execute the offense. They like to work the shot clock unless they’ve changed this year.”
– Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin on Xavier
Two players in this game – Semaj Christon and Jordan McRae – are projected NBA draft picks, according to NBADraft.net. Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes is also considered an NBA draft prospect by many other outlets. . Xavier opened its regular season with an 83-59 win over Gardner-Webb last week. This is the season opener for UT. The Vols were 2-0 in the preseason. . This is the first time since 2004-05 season that Tennessee has opened the season on the road. . Dating back to last season, the Vols have won four of their last five on the road. . Tennessee is 1-5 in true road games against non-conference foes under Martin. The only win came over Division-II Chaminade during the Maui Invitational in 2011-12, a tournament that was held on Chaminade’s home court.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga