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The SEC's Worst Losses: Tennessee (Part II)

The last time Vanderbilt faced Tennessee, they lost a heartbreaker on the road. Can the Commodores redeem themselves at home against their arch rivals?

AoG Rule: Whenever we can shoehorn a picture of Kevin Stallings into an article, we do.
AoG Rule: Whenever we can shoehorn a picture of Kevin Stallings into an article, we do.

It was only two weeks ago that Vandy and Tennessee squared off in a battle between rebuilding teams. The Volunteers defended their home court in a tight game, but now Kevin Stallings's young team will get the chance to return the favor.

The Commodores will look to build off of Saturday's blowout win over Arkansas by extracting revenge on the Vols Wednesday night. Vanderbilt had two shots to leave Knoxville with a win when these two teams last met, but Kedren Johnson's jumper and Kevin Bright's follow up both missed their mark, giving Tennessee the win.

The Volunteers have struggled since then, dropping games to Arkansas and Georgia before rebounding to beat South Carolina on Saturday. Vandy has done the same, losing a pair of contests before rallying to dominate Arkansas at home and avenge an embarrassing mid-season loss to the Hogs. They'll have a similar opportunity when Wednesday rolls around.

They'll need another big game from Josh Henderson to get there, though. Henderson, the redshirt sophomore center who missed chunks of 2012 thanks to foot injuries, showed off a smooth shooting touch to score 13 points against UT's hyped big man Jarnell Stokes. He'll have to regain that form to give the 'Dores a chance; he's averaged 5.7 points per game since then, but had a solid 11 point outing in Saturday's win.

Tennessee hasn't lost to a team as lowly ranked as the Commodores this season, but they do have a recent loss to Georgia, the former doormat of the SEC. The Bulldogs beat UT in the midst of a five-game winning streak that has improved them to a surprising 6-4 in conference play. Let's look at how Mark Fox and his team beat the Volunteers in Knoxville.

Tennessee (12-10, 4-6 SEC, Unranked)

Worst Loss: vs. Georgia (KenPom #111, CBS RPI #111) 62-68
Other Losses: at Georgetown, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Memphis, at Mississippi, vs. Mississippi, at Kentucky, at Alabama, at Virginia, at Arkansas

Georgia continued their recent hot streak with an upset win over the Volunteers in Knoxville, opening up a nine-point lead at halftime and holding on to keep UT at bay late in the second half. The Vols pulled to within one point with under five minutes to play, but UGA used a 5-5 shooting display as the clock wound down to put this out of reach. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led all scorers with 24 points. Jarnell Stokes had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the losing effort for Tennessee

Key to Destruction: Three-point shooting. Georgia made 11 of their 20 three-point attempts to keep the Vols at bay throughout the game. Caldwell-Pope was the 'Dawgs most prolific scorer from behind the arc, making five threes, but the rest of the team - including a 4-6 showing from the bench - came up big to stretch the floor for Georgia. That scoring helped make up for an inefficient night from UGA's forwards. The team's starting frontcourt combined to shoot just 1-7 from the field.

That's a weakness that the Commodores can exploit. If there's one thing that Vandy has done well this season, it's been three-point shooting. Vanderbilt's small-ball lineup is full of gunners who can keep any opponent busy at the perimeter. Shooters like Kedren Johnson, Dai-Jon Parker, Sheldon Jeter, Kevin Bright, and yes, even Rod Odom, could key the Vanderbilt offense to a big showing against Tennessee on Wednesday.

Keys to the Game:
  • Balanced scoring. Nine different players scored for the Bulldogs against UT. While Caldwell-Pope comprised the bulk of Georgia's offense, a balanced attack through the remaining starters and the bench helped power the team. Big baskets from Kenny Gaines and Vincent Williams helped the 'Dawgs extend their lead when they needed it the most, giving Caldwell-Pope some breathing room and helping UGA come away with the win.
  • Ball control. Georgia only turned the ball over 11 times against Tennessee, a number that gels with Vanderbilt's 10 turnovers in their first meeting with the Volunteers. UT doesn't force opponents into many mistakes like Arkansas does, so if Vanderbilt can protect the ball moderately well they'll hold on to the extra possessions they need to make up for an otherwise inefficient offense.
  • Force Tennessee to take jumpers. Georgia limited Tennessee's forwards and big men to just 13 shots (they connected on nearly 54 percent of them). That left 26 shots to the team's guards, and they made just 42 of those. By pressing the action away from the basket, UGA forced the Vols into low-percentage shots and used that defense to keep UT from mounting a comeback late in the game. That puts a lot of pressure on Josh Henderson and Shelby Moats in the post, but they have the length and strength to pester UT near the rim all night.