Texas A&M (10-4, 1-0 SEC) at Tennessee (10-4, 1-0)
Saturday, Jan. 11, 6:05 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: Fox Sports Net
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: UT leads 5-1
Probable Texas A&M Starters
G-Fabyon Harris, 5-11, 178, SR (7.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.2 apg)
G-Alex Caruso, 6-5, 183, SO (9.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.9 apg)
G-Jordan Green, 6-5, 188, JR, (8.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg,)
F-Jamal Jones, 6-8, 200, JR, (10.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
F-Kourtney Roberson 6-9, 245, JR (10.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, .604 FG%)
Key Reserves: Antwan Space (6-8, 255, SO); Davonte Fitzgerald (6-7, 200, FR); Shawn Smith (6-4, 192, FR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Antonio Barton, 6-2, 180, SR, (8.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.8 apg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (18.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.8 apg)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (8.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .458 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.6 orpg)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (13.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.1 orpg)
Key Reserves: Darius Thompson (6-5, 180, FR); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); D’Montre Edwards (6-6, 205, SR)
The opening tip
It took Tennessee four overtimes to knock off Texas A&M last year in College Station. The Vols would probably settle for another four-OT victory on Saturday, but if they keep playing the way they have during their four-game winning streak, 40 minutes should be enough to move the Vols to 2-0 in SEC play.
What a difference a few weeks make. On Dec. 18 the Vols were sitting at 6-4 and looked like a team without an identity.
That’s when the light came on. The Vols have pulled off four straight wins, including impressive showings against Virginia and a convincing 68-50 SEC road win at LSU on Tuesday night.
How have they done it? No need to over-complicate it: the Vols are defending at a high level and knocking down shots. The starting backcourt of Antonio Barton, Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae is collectively shooting a scorching 63.9 percent from 3-point territory in UT’s last three games.
But even if the shots don’t fall for the Vols on Saturday against the Aggies, they could still pull off the victory thanks to the recent uptick in defensive effort. Opponents are shooting close to 35 percent from the field during UT’s recent tear.
“Our defense has been a lot more consistent, and we’ve been putting two halves together – that’s definitely been showing,” Richardson said before practice on Thursday. “We’ve just been following the game plan, really. Just executing.”
And though the Vols will be the favorites on Saturday, A&M brings a two-game winning streak to Knoxville that includes a convincing 69-53 win over Arkansas to open SEC play for the Aggies.
Elston Turner – who scored 38 against the Vols in last year’s thriller – has moved on and the Aggies are adjusting to life without their star from the last few seasons. Talented guard J-Mychal Reese was dismissed from the team in December, further complicating the adjustment.
The Aggies have relied on a more balanced approach this season with all five starters averaging close to eight points or higher and several players contributing off the bench. Anything can happen in conference play, but on paper Tennessee looks to have the edge in this one.
“I think when our big guys are aggressive and in attack mode we are in good shape. Then when are guards are making shots from the perimeter, we are a really tough team to beat. When you add in shooting from the 3 and free-throw line so well our balance gets better.”
- Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin
Freshman Robert Hubbs won't play Saturday and will miss the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, the team confirmed on Friday night. … The Vols are second in the SEC in rebounding margin at +8.7. … Dating back to last season, the Vols are riding a four-game SEC winning streak. … Tennessee is 10th nationally in fewest turnovers committed per game (9.6). However, Tennessee committed a season-high 16 at LSU in arguably one of the Vols’ best performances of the season.
Tennessee 74, Texas A&M 61
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga