Morehead State (8-5) at Tennessee (6-4)
Monday, Dec. 23, 7:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: UT leads 3-0
Probable Morehead State Starters
G-Kareem Storey, 5-10, 190, JR, (6.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.8 apg)
G-Angelo Warner, 6-2, 195, JR (17.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.6 apg)
G-Brent Arrington, 6-3, 180, SO, (11.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
F-Drew Kelly, 6-6, 230, SR, (8.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
C-Billy Reader, 6-10, 260, JR (7.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Key Reserves: Bakari Turner (6-4, 185, SR); Chad Posthumus (6-11, 265, SR); Luka Pajkovic (6-3, 200, JR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Antonio Barton, 6-2, 180, SR, (6.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.6 apg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (19.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.2 apg)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (6.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, .400 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, .507 FG%)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (13.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.9 orpg)
Key Reserves: Robert Hubbs III (6-6, 205, FR); Darius Thompson (6-5, 180, FR); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR); Armani Moore (6-5, 215, SO)
The opening tip
Few expected the Vols (6-4) to be where they are as Christmas approaches this year. Sure, most expected them to drop a couple in the non-conference schedule as the team found its chemistry, but the prevailing thought was that this was this team had the talent and the experience to put together a fail-proof tournament resume.
So far that hasn’t been the case. And perhaps Wednesday’s loss to NC State at home, a game where the Vols trailed by 17 at one point, was the low point so far this season.
Coach Cuonzo Martin cited a lethargic start and a lack of overall chemistry for the loss to the Wolfpack. It seems that UT’s roster – which gets most of its production from a pair of bulky post players and a collection of lengthy wing players – just hasn’t jelled yet. Martin hinted at potential lineup changes, but hasn’t stated any definitive plans yet.
And while the non-conference season is beginning wane, there is still a lot of basketball to be played in the 2013-14 season. The Vols are certainly no strangers to late-season runs and while a win over Morehead State might not be viewed as a huge step in that direction, it’s certainly a game the Vols can’t lose if they want to avoid digging a pit too deep to climb out of.
Morehead State, under the direction of second-year head coach Sean Woods, is no longer in rebuilding mode, and it’s already started to show in the win-loss column.
After struggling to a 15-18 record in Woods’ first season, the Eagles are off to an 8-5 start in 2013-14 with notable wins over Marshall and Nevada and a respectable 11-point loss to UCLA. They have some firepower – averaging just under 80 points per contest and reaching the century mark in points three times, including a 120-point outburst in an easy win over South Dakota on Thursday.
The Eagles are led by a talented front-court comprised of junior Kareem Storey (6.8 apg), junior Angelo Warren (17.4 ppg) and sophomore Brent Arrington (11.8 ppg). Billy Reader (6-10) and Chad Posthumus (6-11) give them some lengthy options in the post and the wild card might be forward Drew Kelly. The Franklin, Tenn., native averages just 8.2 ppg, but he went off for 40 points against South Dakota, an effort that included eight made 3-pointers.
“I think the chemistry has to get better for us to flow and execute, but I don’t think there’s a lack of chemistry as far as relationships. There’s a difference. I think the guys get along great. They all spend time together. I just think the chemistry on the floor, knowing where guys are, knowing how this guy wants the ball, those types of things, but not relationship-type chemistry.”
– Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin
One of the strengths for UT this year has been its ball security. The Vols are currently fourth in the nation in fewest turnovers per game at just 9.2 per contest. . MSU head coach Sean Woods is a former star player at Kentucky (1989-92). He is still the school’s leader in assists per game (5.3) to this day. . Drew Kelly is the nephew of former Tennessee/NFL offensive lineman Chad Clifton. The 40 points he scored against South Dakota were a career high. . Tennessee is 52-2 against current members of the OVC. . Tennessee is trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak since last January.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga