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

Vanderbilt can get to .500 in league play by beating Tennessee in Knoxville, but it won't be easy.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt responded to an 0-3 start to SEC play by posting a perfect slate last week. A win on Wednesday against Tennessee could even up their conference record.

The team will face a tough matchup in Knoxville. The Volunteers have struggled through an up-and-down season, but the dynamic scoring of senior Kevin Punter has helped prevent them from dropping below .500. They'll have to hope that their star-powered offense can overcome Vandy's depth in Knoxville. The Commodores have six different players that average at least eight points per game.

For Vanderbilt, this game is more than just a rivalry matchup. The 'Dores have been one of the college basketball's biggest disappointments in 2015-16. They went from a top 15 ranking to a spot on the ugly side of the NCAA Tournament bubble thanks to a 3-7 skid that lasted from November into the new year. Beating the Vols on the road won't just give him an SEC victory, it will also provide some much-needed evidence this team can win big games in hostile environments. Vandy is 0-4 in true road games this season.

Tennessee (9-8, 2-2 SEC, unranked in either poll and ranked No. 76 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)

Worst Loss: vs. Auburn (8-8. No. 160 KenPomNo. 78 CBS RPI), 77-83
Other Losses: at Georgia Tech, vs. George Washington, vs. Nebraska, at Butler, vs. Gonzaga, vs. Texas A&M, at Georgia

The Volunteers also have a bad defeat against Nebraska on the books this season, but their loss to an Auburn team - the same team that sat idly by while Luke Kornet blocked all its shots a week later - got the call as their worst showing of 2015-16. Tennessee did everything that typically leads to a Vanderbilt loss back on January 2nd. The Vols out-rebounded the Tigers, forced more turnovers than they gave up, and put up 26 (TWENTY-SIX) more shots than Auburn did. However, despite the best efforts of Admiral Schofield and Kevin Punter (53 combined points), they still ate a six-point loss in Alabama. So how can the Commodores replicate that result?

Point of emphasis: Three-point defense. Tennessee shot 28 three-pointers in their conference opener. They made three of them. Only one Vol - Derek Reese, who has attempted five threes this season - shoots better than 37 percent from long range. For comparison, Vanderbilt has FIVE different players who have taken at least 30 threes this season and have made at least 44 percent of their attempts. The Commodores should have a huge advantage from behind the arc on Wednesday.

Keys to the Game:

  • Make UT's role players beat you. Punter is the SEC's No. 2 scorer this season, and he blew up against the Tigers. The rangy guard scored 32 points on 11-21 shooting. While his teammate Schofield tripled his scoring average to step up for the Vols (22 points, 9-19), the rest of Tennessee's shooters combined to make only 25.6 percent of their shots. Punter is a very difficult scorer to contain, but he can't carry Tennessee to victory on his own.
  • Make adjustments - and ride your hot hand. Auburn went into the locker room trailing by two points, but Bryce Brown's hot shooting turned the tide after halftime and gave the Tigers an early lead they would not relinquish. Brown took his team's first three shots of the second half and made them all, singlehandedly delivering an 8-0 run that put Auburn in control. He missed his fourth attempt of the night, and the Tigers spread the ball out from there - but giving Brown a "shoot until you miss" green light powered the team to a comeback win in SEC play.
  • Control the ball. Auburn outshot Tennessee 52.8% to 38%. If you exclude two-pointers, that gap grows to 46.2% to 10.7%. So how was this only a six-point victory? Because Tennessee was opportunistic defensively and on the glass. The Vols sucked up 47 percent of their missed shots en route to 23 offensive rebounds. They created 17 turnovers. Those are two types of stats we've gotten used to seeing in Vanderbilt losses.