Hoops Preview: #25 Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Vols G Keon Johnson / Credit: UT Athletics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 25 Tennessee basketball team hits the road for a Wednesday night encounter with in-state foe, Vanderbilt. Tipoff from Memorial Gym is slated for 9 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

Fans can catch Wednesday’s game on SEC Netowrk and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN on the ESPN App. WatchESPN can be accessed online at espn.com/watch. Mike Morgan and Debbie Antonelli will have the call.

Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertlekamp describing the action.

Last time out, Tennessee fell at home to Kentucky, 70-55. The Vols were led in scoring for the second consecutive game by junior Victor Bailey Jr. who poured in 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting and a 4-of-8 mark from 3-point range.

A victory on Wednesday will mark Tennessee’s fifth consecutive win inside Memorial Gym and would keep every current Vol undefeated when this series is contested in Nashville.

Up next, the Orange & White will stay on the road for a Saturday afternoon matchup with Auburn. Tipoff from Auburn Arena is slated for Noon ET on ESPN or ESPN2.

THE SERIES
• Tennessee leads its all-time series with Vanderbilt, 125-75, dating to 1922.
• The programs are meeting for the 201st time Wednesday. Longtime Tennessee athletic trainer Chad Newman has been on the Vols’ bench for 25 percent of those games. Wednesday marks his 52nd Tennessee-Vanderbilt game.
• Tennessee has won nine of the last 10 meetings in this series, including each of the last seven and four straight at Memorial Gym.
• No active Vol has ever lost a game at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym.
• Tennessee made history in its last trip to Memorial Gym (Jan. 18, 2020), as it held Vanderbilt without a 3-pointer for the first time since the 3-point line was introduced (snapping Vandy’s streak of 1,080 games with at least one make).
• Just 181 miles separate UT’s Thompson-Boling Arena and Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium.

LAYUP LINES
• The Vols and Commodores were first scheduled to play at Memorial Gym on Jan. 12, but the game was postponed after UT had traveled to Nashville.
• Sophomore Josiah-Jordan James has missed Tennessee’s last two games with a left wrist injury.
• After their 10-1 start, the Vols are 5-5 over their last 10 games.
• The true freshman duo of Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer have accounted for 43.2 percent of Tennessee’s scoring over the last five games.
• Tennessee is the only team in the SEC with three players who have scored 27 or more points in a game this season—Jaden Springer (30), Victor Bailey Jr. (29) and Keon Johnson (27).
• Reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons is a top-10 finalist for the Julius Erving Award and one of 15 candidates for the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year.

DEFENSE WINS
• According to KenPom, the Vols rank fifth in the NCAA in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 88.5 points per 100 possessions. College teams typically average close to 70 possessions per game.
• Tennessee ranks 18th in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 62.7 points per game.
• The Vols are forcing 15.7 turnovers per game and converting those turnovers into 17.6 points per game.
• Tennessee has forced 15 of 21 opponents to turn the ball over on 20 percent or more of their possessions. The Vols are forcing opponents to turn it over 22.8 percent of the time this season.
• In SEC play, Tennessee has led the league in turnover margin all season (currently +2.9 per game).
• Only once this season has a Tennessee opponent scored 80 or more points. That was Georgia, in a game the Vols won, 89-81, on Feb. 10.

ABOUT VANDERBILT
• Since taking on the Vols in the middle of last month, Vanderbilt is 2-6 overall and has fallen in four of its last five outings. However, all four of its losses, which bookended a 21-point win over Mississippi State, have been by six points or less.
• Like in January’s matchup, the Commodores will be led by standout sophomore guard, Scotty Pippen Jr. Pippen Jr. leads the Commodores and ranks second in the SEC in scoring, averaging 20.5 points. He is fresh off 21- and 24-point performances in contests against Kentucky and Alabama last week. Pippen Jr. also leads Vandy and ranks second in the conference in assists, dishing out an average of 5.2 per game. On the defensive end, the Los Angeles native has recorded an average of 1.7 steals per game, which ranks third in the SEC.
• Under the basket, classmate Dylan Disu has complemented Pippen, ranking second on the team and 10th in the SEC in scoring with 15.0 points per game. On the glass, Disu has been dominant, leading both the Commodores and the SEC with an eye-popping 9.2 rebounds per game. Disu is also averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game on the defensive end.
• Off the bench, VU has gotten consistent production from sophomore Jordan Wright, who is the team’s third-leading scorer (8.2 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (4.3 rpg). Wright has also dished out 1.8 assists per game while playing primarily in the frontcourt.
• Vanderbilt is nicknamed the Commodores in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortunes in shipping. Commodore was a term used by the U.S. Navy during the mid-to-late 19th century, hence Vandy’s use of the phrase, “Anchor Down.”

LAST MEETING WITH VANDERBILT
•  A then-season-high 16 points from freshman guard Keon Johnson and another solid effort on the defensive end led the 10th-ranked Tennessee basketball team past in-state foe Vanderbilt Jan. 16, 2021, in Knoxville.
•  The win was the Volunteers’ seventh consecutive victory over the Commodores, and their fourth in a row inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
•  The victory also tied Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes with legendary former coaches Phog Allen and Don Haskins for 20th place on the all-time Division I wins list with 719.
•  Johnson’s 16 points were both a team- and season-high, coming on 4-of-8 shooting from the field and a near perfect 7-of-8 mark from the free-throw line.
•  Senior John Fulkerson was among the most efficient players on the floor, scoring 15 points, knocking down five of his six attempts from the field and grabbing a game-high eight rebounds.
•  Freshman Jaden Springer stuffed the stat sheet, totaling 10 points, a season-high seven rebounds, five assists and a season-high-tying three steals.
•  Victor Bailey Jr. finished the night with 11 points, nine of which came on three made 3-pointers during the Vols’ early second-half run that stretched the lead.
•  The first half was a tightly contested affair that saw the defenses controlling the flow. While the squads combined to shoot a fairly efficient 37 percent from the field, there were only 10 combined offensive rebounds and seven second-chance points between the sides.
•  A late push to end the opening half sent the Vols into the locker room with a 34-24 lead.
•  The start of the second half saw a similar pace to the opening frame. The Vols broke things open with a 15-2 run during a four-minute stretch where they knocked down five shots from 3-point range, three of which came from Bailey Jr., to extend the lead to 56-42.
•  Over the final 10 minutes, the Vols stifled Vandy on the defensive end and made a number of key buckets to close out the night.

MEMORABLE VOL PERFORMANCES AGAINST VANDERBILT
• Grant Williams (now with the Boston Celtics) erupted for a record-setting performance as the No. 1-ranked Volunteers held off Vanderbilt, 88-83, in overtime in Nashville on Jan. 23, 2019. Williams finished with a career-high 43 points and also tallied eight rebounds, four blocks, two assists and a steal. The junior forward was 10-of-15 from the field and a program-record 23-of-23 from the free-throw line.
• Josh Richardson (now a starter for the Philadelphia 76ers) helped the Vols rally from two separate double-digit deficits in the second half by scoring 15 of his game-high 22 points in the final stanza to lift Tennessee to a 67-61 comeback win over Vanderbilt in the 2015 SEC Tournament in Nashville on March 12, 2015. In what was the second-to-last game of his career, Richardson also led all players with three steals and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the foul line.
• Dyron Nix (17 points, 18 rebounds) and Doug Roth (10 points, 10 rebounds) recorded double-doubles and Tennessee beat Vanderbilt 79-69 in overtime in Stokely Athletics Center Feb. 4, 1987, in Knoxville.
• Dick Johnston made six free throws in double overtime to lift UT to a 77-72 win over the Dores in Nashville on Feb. 2, 1970. Jimmy England led the charge with 27 points, and Bobby Croft had an 18-16 double-double.
• Tennessee All-Century Team member Paul “Lefty” Walther (1948-49) never lost to Vanderbilt during his career as a Vol. The Covington, Kentucky, native helped lead Tennessee to a 4-0 record over the Dores, beating Vandy by an average of 9.8 points.

THE NIGHT THE STREAK ENDED…
• Thirteen months ago, on Jan. 18, 2020, Tennessee ended Vanderbilt’s decades-long 3-point streak during a 66-45 win at Memorial Gym.
•  The Vols held Vanderbilt to an 0-25 night from 3-point range. It was the first time since the 3-point shot was introduced in the 1986-87 season (spanning 1,080 games) that the Commodores failed to knock down at least one 3-point attempt.
• The 0-for-25 effort represented one of the worst 3-point-shooting performances by a men’s Division I team in 20 seasons. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, only Northwestern State’s 0-for-26 effort in a game in 2012 was worse during that span.

SECOND TIME’S A CHARM
• Since 2018, Rick Barnes and his staff have guided the Volunteers to a 12-5 record in regular-season rematch games (SEC Tournament games not included).

ROAD WARRIORS
• Dating to the start of the 2017-18 season, Tennessee has won more than half of its true road games during SEC play, going 18-15 (.545).
• This season, the Vols have road wins at Missouri, Texas A&M and Kentucky.

VOLS SUCCESSFUL ON THE IN-STATE CIRCUIT
• Tennessee has won its last four games against in-state opponents and is 19-5 vs. in-state foes under coach Rick Barnes.
• Those 19 wins include triumphs over Chattanooga, ETSU (twice), Tennessee State, Vanderbilt (9x), Tennessee Tech (3x), Lipscomb (twice) and Memphis.

BEST TWO-GAME STRETCH FOR VJ
• From a scoring standpoint, junior guard Victor Bailey Jr. is coming off the best two-game stretch of his career—47 total points (23.5 ppg). He scored a career-high 29 vs. South Carolina and followed that with 18 against Kentucky.
• Prior to last week, Bailey’s best two-game scoring total was 34 points. He did that twice, most recently against Rider (23) and Marquette (11) in the final two games of his freshman season (2017-18) at Oregon.
• Bailey was UT’s top scorers in each of the last two games. On the season, he has led the Vols in scoring a team-high seven times.

-UT Athletics

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