Tennessee (15-10, 6-6 SEC) vs. Georgia (14-10, 8-4)
Tuesday, Feb. 18, 9:00 p.m. ET
Thompson Boling-Arena (21,678) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads 93-55
Probable Georgia Starters
G-Kenny Gaines, 6-3, 195, SO (12.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, .304 3FG%)
G-Charles Mann, 6-5, 210, SO (13.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg)
G-Brandon Morris, 6-7, 215, SO, (9.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .534 FG%)
F-Marcus Thornton, 6-8, 235, JR, (7.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg)
F-Donte’ Williams, 6-9, 225, SR (5.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg)
Key Reserves:Nemanja Djurisic (6-8, 230, JR); Juwan Parker (6-4, 200, FR); J.J. Frazier (5-10, 150, FR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Darius Thompson, 6-5, 180, FR, (2.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.7 apg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (19.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .388 3FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (9.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, .419 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.7 orpg)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (14.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.2 orpg)
Key Reserves:Antonio Barton (6-2, 180, SR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR)
The opening tip
When Tennessee steps on the court late Tuesday night to square off against Georgia, the Vols might feel a sense of familiarity.
After dropping three of their last four, Tennessee finds itself in the all-too-familiar spot of needing to be virtually flawless down the stretch to secure an NCAA tournament bid. And just like in 2013, Georgia is one of the teams in its way.
The Bulldogs snapped UT’s six-game winning streak last year in Athens on March 2, a result that, if reversed, might’ve been enough to get UT into the Big Dance.
Mark Fox‘s squad this year has been somewhat of a tale of two mini-seasons. The Bulldogs struggled to a 6-6 mark in non-conference play, but turned a corner once the SEC schedule begun. The Bulldogs have been one of the league’s pleasant surprises with an 8-4 mark in the conference and they’re currently riding a four-game winning streak.
First-round NBA draft pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has moved on, but the Bulldogs get approximately 26 combined points a game from their starting backcourt of Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann.
Expect Tennessee to be in for another fight for its tournament life on Tuesday night.
For Tennessee to beat Georgia and start a late-season charge, the offense will need to go through forward Jarnell Stokes more and more. Stokes got off to a good start at Missouri on Saturday, but the 6-foot-8 junior didn’t attempt a field goal in the last 17 minutes of the contest.
“We’ve got to really lock in on that and make sure he gets the ball,” coach Cuonzo Martin said on Monday. “He’s a very unselfish player. I’d like him to be more selfish, or more assertive, especially near the rim, because that’s just not his nature to shoot balls, but we’ve to get the ball to him.
“Our guards have to do a great job of really finding him. And sometimes, like I told our guys, it’s going to be tough passes because the way teams hover around him. We have to try to punch it in there.”
And if opponents make it impossible for Stokes to operate, UT’s guards must make shots – something that’s been on-and-off again throughout the season. Josh Richardson and Jordan McRae have hovered around 40 percentfrom behind the arc throughout the season. They’re both solid options, but the Vols also need Antonio Barton, the team’s de facto sixth man to start hitting some shots.
The former starting point guard, who was one of UT’s better shooting options earlier in the season, has only hit three of his last 29 3-point attempts. Finding some more scoring options will help lighten the load off of the current ‘Big 3’ of McRae, Richardson and Stokes.
“Not at all. I just think as a coach you have to do your job, that’s the bottom line. You stay locked in on what you need to do to be successful. Because, I mean, I’m constantly watching film, doing my job, whatever it takes for our team to be successful. Put forth the best game plan for your team to be successful.”
– Martin on if he feels pressure to need to make the NCAA tournament in his third season at UT
Tennessee fell just four spots in the official NCAA RPI from No. 50 to No. 54 despite losing games to Florida and Missouri last week. . The Vols are projected as one of the ‘last four in’ in ESPN.com’s updated bracket. . Stokes is just 75 points shy of reaching the 1,000-point club. He remains the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double in SEC play (14.5 ppg, 11.3 rpg). . The Bulldogs have won their last two games at UT and Georgia has never won three straight games in Knoxville in the history of its series with UT. . Tennessee has three players on its roster from the state of Georgia (A.J. Davis, McRae and Armani Moore).
Tennessee 70, Georgia 68
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga