Hoops Preview: #22 Tennessee vs. Butler in the Bahamas

The 22nd-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball heads to the Bahamas this week for the Battle 4 Atlantis, set to take on Butler in their opening game on Wednesday at approximately 7:30 p.m. ET.

Fans can catch Wednesday’s game on ESPN2 and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App, or online at espn.com/watch. Kevin Fitzgerald (play-by-play) and Carolyn Peck (analyst) will have the call.
 
Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Brian Rice and Bert Bertelkamp describing the action.
 
Tennessee (2-1) is coming off an 81-50 home win over Florida Gulf Coast. Seniors Josiah-Jordan James and Olivier Nkamhoua led the Vols with 18 points apiece, while defensively, the Vols limited Florida Gulf Coast to 30.4 percent shooting from the field.
 
This week marks Tennessee’s third time participating in the Battle 4 Atlantis, as the Vols took home a fifth-place finish in 2013 and a third-place finish in 2017. The Vols are 4-2 overall in the event.
 
Depending on the result of Wednesday’s opening game in the Bahamas, Tennessee will face either BYU or USC on Thursday. In result of a win, tip-off will be at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. If Butler wins Wednesday, Tennessee will play at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3.
 
THE SERIES
• Tennessee trails its all-time series with Butler, 2-3, dating to 1958.
• The programs have met twice previously at neutral sites, with Butler winning in New York City in 2006 and UT winning in the 2008 NCAA Tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.
• The Volunteers are 30-27 all-time against current members of the Big East Conference.
•  Rick Barnes is 42-50 as a head coach vs. the current Big East configuration—which differs from his tenure as the head coach at Providence (1988-94)—and he is 0-2 against Butler.
• During Tennessee’s trip to Indy for last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Vols practiced at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse.
• First-year Butler Strength & Conditioning coach Tyler Watson recently spent two seasons (2019-21) as the director of women’s basketball sports performance on Kellie Harper’s staff at Tennessee.
 
SCOUTING REPORT
• Senior big man Uroš Plavšic suffered a right ankle injury early in Tennessee’s game vs. Colorado Nov. 13. He sat out the Florida Gulf Coast game last Wednesday and is aiming to return to against Butler.
• Senior wing Josiah-Jordan James is shooting an SEC-best .526 from 3-point range this season (10 of 19).
• Santiago Vescovi needs only two 3-pointers to become the seventh Vol ever to make 200.
• With Zakai Zeigler as the primary defender, opponents this season are shooting 5-for-23 (.217).
• According to KenPom, the Vols rank fourth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 86.5 points per 100 possessions.
• 57.1 percent of Tennessee’s shot attempts this season have been 3-pointers. That’s the highest rate in the country. And 48.5 percent of UT’s made field goals have been from beyond the arc.
• The Volunteers are averaging 13.7 steals per game and are scoring 19.3 points per game off turnovers.
• Tennessee’s projected starters—Tyreke KeySantiago VescoviJulian PhillipsJosiah-Jordan James and Olivier Nkamhoua—combine to account for 370 games played, 280 starts and a staggering 3,785 collegiate points scored.
 
THURSDAY SCENARIOS
• The Vols are a perfect 2-0 all-time against BYU, with home wins in 1957 and 1980.
• Tennessee owns a 9-7 all-time record against current members of the West Coast Conference. The Vols defeated WCC powerhouse Gonzaga in exhibition play Oct. 28.
• The Big Orange lead their all-time series with Southern Cal, 4-3, dating to 1967. The programs have never met at a neutral site.
• The Vols own a 22-13 all-time record against current members of the Pac 12 Conference. UT fell to Colorado earlier this season.
• Looking ahead to Friday, possible opponents for the Vols include Dayton, Kansas, NC State or Wisconsin.
 
ABOUT BUTLER
• In its first four games of the season, Butler (3-1) picked up three home wins over mid-major opponents (New Orleans, Saint Francis and The Citadel), while falling on the road at Penn State last week, 68-62.
• Former longtime Ohio State head coach Thad Matta is in his first season at the helm of the Butler program. Matta, who was the head coach at Ohio State from 2004-17, is a 1990 graduate of Butler University and previously was the program’s head coach during the 2000-01 season.
• Now in his 18th year as a college head coach, Matta is 442-155 (.740) overall in stints at Ohio State, Xavier and Butler.
• Two of Matta’s former players from his time at Ohio State are members of Butler’s basketball support staff. Greg Oden, a Buckeye during the 2006-07 season and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, is Butler’s Director of Basketball Operations. Jon Diebler, who played at Ohio State from 2007-11, is Butler’s Director of Recruiting.
• Butler was picked to finish eighth in the 11-team Big East in the conference’s coaches preseason poll. Junior guard Chuck Harris was named a preseason All-Big East Honorable Mention.
• Harris, Butler’s leading scorer through four games with a 15.8 ppg mark, has been the Bulldogs’ leading scorer during each of the past two seasons.
• Butler’s leading rebounder and fourth-leading scorer is NC State transfer center Manny Bates, who is averaging 13.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg. Bates was a two-year starter for the Wolfpack during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons (missed last season due to injury) and tallied 147 blocked shots during his career, which ranks fourth in program history at NC State.
 
LAST MEETING WITH BUTLER
• Kevin Punter Jr. scored 27 points, and Armani Moore had 17, but Tennessee’s second-half comeback came up short as the Vols fell to No. 18 Butler, 94-86, at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on Dec. 12, 2015.
• Tennessee outshot the Bulldogs from the field, hitting at a 49.2 percent clip to Butler’s 46.8 percent shooting. Butler led by as many as 11 points in the second half, but strong all-around play from Moore, and Punter’s scoring, kept UT in the game late.
• Punter was 10-of-23 from the field and 3-of-10 from 3-point range. He scored 17 of his 27 points in the first half, and his hot start led the Vols to a 25-15 lead over the first 10 minutes before Butler seized the lead four minutes prior to halftime.
• Tennessee led by as many as 10 points in the first half (25-15 at 9:43).
• A 3-pointer by Punter with 14:57 left in the first half sparked a 19-7 Vols run. Tennessee made five treys in that stretch, with Punter and Shembari Phillips making two apiece.
• Moore scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and added six rebounds. He tied his career-high with seven assists.
• Making his first career start, UT freshman forward (and eventual NBA Draft pick) Admiral Schofield had a then-career-high 16 points and seven rebounds. Vols senior Devon Baulkman added 13 points and five rebounds.
• Kelan Martin paced Butler with 25 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Roosevelt Jones had 21 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in his battle with Moore in the paint.
 
BUTLER’S STAFF HAS HISTORY VS. VOLS
• Butler head coach Thad Matta, assistant coach Kevin Kuwik, director of recruiting Jon Diebler and director of basketball operations Greg Oden all faced Tennessee during their time at Ohio State.
• Between 2007 and 2010, Matta’s Buckeyes teams went 2-2 against the Vols, with a pair of NCAA Tournament clashes (recaps linked below). Matta won his first two meetings against UT, while the Vols claimed the two most recent contests.
• On Jan. 13, 2007, Oden shined in Ohio State’s 68-66 home win over Tennessee, finishing with 24 points and 15 rebounds—both game-highs.
• Two months later, when the Vols and Buckeyes later met in the 2007 South Region semifinal at the Alamodome, Oden delivered a game-sealing block at the final buzzer, securing an 85-84 triumph for No. 1-seeded Ohio State. After battling foul trouble in the first half, Oden finished with nine points, three rebounds and four blocks.
• Diebler started and played all 40 minutes of the 2010 Midwest Region semifinal showdown in St. Louis, which the Vols won, 76-73, to advance to the Elite Eight. Diebler shot 1-for-8 with three points and a steal in the loss. Kuwik was Ohio State’s video coordinator during that 2009-10 season.
 
UT MAKING THIRD TRIP TO ATLANTIS
• Tennessee is making its third appearance at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament at Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas.
• The Vols posted a fifth-place finish at the eight-team event in 2013 and then finished in third place under head coach Rick Barnes in 2017.
• This year’s field includes Butler, BYU, Dayton, Kansas, NC State, Southern Cal and Wisconsin.
• Tennessee and NC State are on opposite sides of this year’s bracket. Tennessee associate head coach Justin Gainey starred at point guard for the Wolfpack from 1997-2000.
 
2017 TRIP TO ATLANTIS “BEST WEEK” OF VESCOVI’S LIFE
• Vols senior Santiago Vescovi describes a 2017 trip to Atlantis Resort as the “best week” of his life.
• Atlantis hosted a Basketball Without Borders camp in July of 2017. Participants from 16 countries included Vescovi, Kofi Cockburn and many others.
• Vescovi—then 15 years old—shined at the camp and was selected for the All-Star Game, in which his coaching staff included current Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham.
• Vescovi’s performance that week helped to accelerate his global basketball journey, which led first to the NBA Academy system and then to Tennessee.
 
VOLS LEAD NATION IN ASSIST RATE
• Tennessee has assisted on 75.8 percent of its made baskets thus far. That assist rate is the best among all Division I teams.
• While the Vols have played only three games, six players have recorded at least five assists. Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler lead the way with 11 and 10 assists, respectively.

-UT Athletics

Vols G Jahmai Mashack / Credit: UT Athletics

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