Tennessee (15-9, 6-5 SEC) at Missouri (17-7, 5-6)
Saturday, Feb. 15, 4:10 p.m. ET
Mizzou Arena (15,061) . Columbia, Mo.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Missouri leads 4-3
Probable Missouri Starters
G-Jordan Clarkson, 6-5, 193, JR (19.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.3 apg)
G-Jabari Brown, 6-5, 214, JR (20.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .450 3FG%)
G-Earnest Ross, 6-5, 228, SR, (14.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 spg)
F-Johnathan Williams III, 6-9, 223, FR, (6.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.3 orpg)
C-Ryan Rosburg, 6-10, 252, SO (5.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .693 FG%)
Key Reserves: Wes Clark (6-0, 171, FR); Tony Criswell (6-9, 240, SR); Torren Jones (6-8, 234, FR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Darius Thompson, 6-5, 180, FR, (2.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.8 apg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (19.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .396 3FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (9.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, .431 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.6 orpg)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (14.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.3 orpg)
Key Reserves: Antonio Barton (6-2, 180, SR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); D’Montre Edwards (6-6, 205, SR); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR)
The opening tip
After dropping two of their last three games, the Vols are running out of opportunities in the 2013-14 season. They are squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble and with no more ranked teams left on the schedule, UT needs to pile up a high quantity of wins.
But the Vols will get two cracks at Mizzou, another bubble team, in their last seven games. A win at Missouri, a team ranked 43rd in the most recent ESPN RPI rating, is likely UT’s best chance at boosting its resume down the stretch.
The Tigers snapped a three-game losing streak on Thursday night with a dramatic 86-85 win over Arkansas at home to improve their home record to 11-2 this season.
Led by SEC Player of the Year candidates Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, the Tigers have one of the best backcourt units in the conference, if not the nation. Throw in Earnest Ross and that starting trio averages nearly 55 points per contest.
That presents a huge challenge for Tennessee, especially starting freshman point guard Darius Thompson, who has struggled on the defensive end at times this season. Coach Cuonzo Martin actually gave former starting PG Antonio Barton more minutes than Thompson against Florida on Tuesday and it will be interesting to see if he does that again to give the Vols more of a veteran presence on D.
And while the Tigers are tough to contain on the perimeter, they do lack firepower in the post. UT needs a bounce-back game from Jeronne Maymon, who scored just two points and turned it over eight times in the loss to the Gators.
Look for UT to get the ball to Jarnell Stokes early and often in this one. Stokes, the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double in league play, has been playing some of the most consistent basketball of his career over the past few weeks. If the Tigers throw extra bodies at him, he’ll look for guards Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae. Richardson, especially, has been hot from 3 recently, hitting 50 percent of his shots from behind the arc in UT’s last five games.
If the game comes down to free throws, these two teams have been two of the best in the conference. Missouri leads the league (.733), while UT is third (.708).
“Every game we should approach with a sense of urgency. We have to go get this win.”
– Richardson on playing Missouri
Tennessee hasn’t suffered back-to-back SEC losses all season. . UT should have the rest advantage on Saturday. The Vols last played on Tuesday night, while the Tigers played late on Thursday evening. . A Tennessee win would even the all-time series. . Tennessee reserve guard Quinton Chievous’ father, Derrick Chievous is Missouri’s all-time leading scorer. . The Vols are 15-5 all-time under Martin in the month of February. . Tennessee’s RPI stands at 50th with a strength of schedule ranked eighth nationally, according to ESPN’s figures on Friday. … A mock NCAA tournament committee had UT as the 33rd out of 36 at-large teams to make it in the field as of Friday.
Missouri 82, Tennessee 77
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga