No. 1 Tennessee takes new ranking on the road vs. Vanderbilt
(AP Photo/Shawn Millsaps)
Tennessee puts its fresh No. 1 ranking on the line as the Vols head three hours west to take on arch-rival Vanderbilt in a matchup Wednesday in Nashville.
The Vols, (16-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) ranked No. 1 for just the second time in school history, received 48 of a possible 64 votes in the Associated Press Top 25. Tennessee rides a 12-game winning streak, its only loss coming in overtime to Kansas on Nov. 23.
Tennessee is a 12-point favorite according to Ken Pomeroy. It faces a Vanderbilt team (9-8, 0-5 SEC) that's dropped its first five SEC games, including Saturday's 71-55 home loss to then-No. 24 Mississippi State.
One might expect the Vols to relax a bit as they head to Nashville, but history shows that would not be wise.
First, the Vols just got a scare from Alabama on their home floor on Saturday. UT blew a 15-point lead and found itself trailing until senior guard Admiral Schofield's bucket with 2:14 left put the Vols ahead for good in a 71-68 victory.
Second, Tennessee's only other No. 1 ranking came to a screeching halt against the same opponent, and in the same venue, where the Vols play Wednesday. The Commodores, ranked No. 18 at the time, beat the Vols, 72-69, on Feb. 26, 2008.
To boot, the Vols are a smart, mature team led by veteran coach Rick Barnes, who took the ranking in stride when asked about it on Monday.
"I think it's a compliment that these have continued to try to build this program to the level that we'd all like to see, to see if we can keep it there," Barnes said. "But we haven't made a big deal about it."
Tennessee is led by a pair of All-American candidates in junior forward Grant Williams (18.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, .561 field goal percentage) and Schofield (17.4, 6.5, .504). That's compounded by the fact that the Vols have four other guys -- guards Jordan Bone (13.2 points), Jordan Bowden (10.8), Lamonte Turner (10.5) and center Kyle Alexander (9.9) -- who can score, too.
Scoring has uncharacteristically been an issue for Vanderbilt. VU has looked lost offensively without point guard Darius Garland, who went down with a season-ending knee injury in November.
VU scored 47, 71 and 55 points in its last three games, and has shot poorly across the board. The Commodores don't have a player among the SEC's top 22 scorers in conference games, though freshman guard Aaron Nesmith, who has scored in double figures the last three games including 23 in a loss to South Carolina last week, is a threat.
The main culprit has been foul shooting. The Commodores' 119 free throw attempts in league games is ranked tied for third, but their 60.5 free throw percentage is dead last.
So has youth. The Commodores rank 305th in the country in experience, according to Pomeroy.
"Unfortunately, I can't create any drills or anything in practice that equals experience, and so a lot of times we do it well in practice and you get into the game and it's usually underclassmen that just don't make the simple play we practiced," coach Bryce Drew said after Saturday's defeat.
The Vols have won the last two games against Vanderbilt in Nashville, last year's being a 92-84 victory.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 23, 2019