Hoops Preview: #5 Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The fifth-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team returns home for an in-state battle Tuesday, taking on Vanderbilt at 9 p.m. ET. 
Fans can catch Tuesday’s game on SEC Network and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App, or online at espn.com/watch. Tom Hart (play-by-play), Dane Bradshaw (analyst) and Alyssa Lang (reporter) will have the call.
Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertelkamp describing the action.
Tennessee (13-2, 3-0 SEC) enters Tuesday’s game coming off two straight blowout wins over SEC opponents—most recently an 85-42 win at South Carolina on Saturday. Olivier Nkamhoua led the Vols in scoring and rebounding and tallied his third career double-double, posting a 21-point, 10-rebound effort. Nkamhoua’s 21 points came by way of a 10-for-10 shooting performance from the field, which tied a Tennessee program record for field goal makes without a miss in a single game.
 The Vols’ 43-point margin of victory marked the third-largest margin of victory in a road game in program history and largest since Feb. 8, 1965. It was also tied for the fourth-largest win over an SEC team in program history.
Coupled with last Tuesday’s 34-point win over Mississippi State, Saturday’s win gave Tennessee wins in back-to-back games over SEC opponents by 30 or more points for the first time since 1965.
Following Tuesday’s in-state matchup, Tennessee is back home for a showdown with rival Kentucky on Saturday. VFL Chris Lofton’s jersey will also be retired at halftime. Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. ET on ESPN.
• Tennessee leads its all-time series with Vanderbilt, 128-75, dating to 1922. This is the 204th meeting.
• Only 181 miles separate UT’s Thompson-Boling Arena and Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym.
• Tennessee has won 12 of the last 13 meetings in this series, including each of the last 10 overall and five straight at Thompson-Boling Arena.
• The Vols have out-rebounded the Dores in each of the last seven meetings.
• During the Rick Barnes era, Tennessee has held Vanderbilt to an average of 67.0 points per game (1,005 points in 15 games).
• The Vols are riding an 11-game win streak against in-state opponents.
• Tuesday’s game is branded as the #BeTheGift Showdown, as Tennessee and Vanderbilt have partnered with Tennessee Donor Services in an effort to promote organ donor registration. For info, visit BeTheGiftToday.com
• The Vols occupy the No. 2 spot in the NCAA’s NET ratings.
• Tennessee ranks among the top five nationally in eight different statistical categories.
• These Vols have won eight games by 30 or more points.
• While UT’s defense gets the headlines, during SEC play, the Vols lead the league in both assists (20.0 apg) and field-goal percentage (.544).
• The Vols own a ridiculous +27.0 scoring margin in SEC games. That is complemented by a +17.3 rebound margin.
• The Vols outscored their last two opponents by 77 points.
• Tennessee has yet to trail during the year 2023, and senior Olivier Nkamhoua has yet to miss a field-goal attempt in 2023 (15 of 15).
• UT’s bench is giving the Vols 26.1 points per game.
• Tennessee is riding a 24-game home win streak at Thompson-Boling Arena and ranks fifth nationally in average home attendance (16,779).
• For the seventh straight week, the Volunteers own the best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country per KenPom, allowing only 80.5 points per 100 possessions.
• Tennessee owns the best overall field-goal percentage defense (.332) and 3-point defense in Division I (.208).
• In 15 games, Tennessee opponents have managed to make only 70 3-pointers—just 4.7 per game.
• Nine times this season, the Vols have held their opponents to 50 points or less. Tennessee has now done that 29 times during the Barnes era (2015-present).
• Only two opposing players have scored 20 or more points against the Vols this season.
• Tennessee trailed at the break only once this season and is outscoring its opponents 36.3 ppg to 23.9 ppg (+12.4 ppg) in first-half action.
• Vanderbilt (8-7, 1-1 SEC) has split its first two games of conference play, defeating South Carolina at home last Tuesday in overtime, 84-79, before falling at No. 20 Missouri on Saturday, 85-82.
• The Commodores have played three true road games so far this season—grabbing an overtime win at Temple on Nov. 15, but dropping close contests at VCU on Nov. 30 and at Missouri on Saturday.
• Currently ranked No. 115 in the NET, Vanderbilt has played three Quadrant 1 games this season—neutral-site games against Saint Mary’s and NC State and Saturday’s game at Missouri. The Commodores dropped those three games by an average of just 5.7 points per contest.
• Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse is in his fourth season at the helm of the program, having posted a 47-61 record so far in his tenure. The Commodores entered this season off their most successful campaign yet under Stackhouse.
• Fifth-year senior forward Liam Robbins, who is in his second season at Vanderbilt after transferring from Minnesota, is leading the Commodores in scoring (12.9 ppg), rebounding (6.0 rpg) and blocked shots (2.9 bpg). His 2.9 blocked shots per game rank sixth in all of Division I.
• Robbins, a highly-touted transfer prior to last season, was sidelined until February of the 2021-22 season by a foot injury. He appeared in 15 of Vanderbilt’s final 16 games last season.
• In Rick Barnes‘ first season as the head coach at Clemson (1994-95), his Tigers faced North Carolina—led by the first-team All-American Stackhouse—three times. Stackhouse and the Tar Heels won all three meetings on their way to the Final Four.
• No player on this Tennessee roster has ever lost to Vanderbilt.
• Over the previous three seasons (six meetings), Tennessee has outscored the Commodores by 12.3 points per game (70.5 ppg to 58.2 ppg).
• Several Tennessee returners enjoyed strong performances during last season’s home-and-home sweep of Vanderbilt.
•  Zakai Zeigler averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 assists and 3.0 steals vs. Vanderbilt last season while making a living at the free-throw line (14 for 17).
• Also in those two wins, Santiago Vescovi shot .545 from 3-point range (6 for 11) and averaged 12.0 points and 4.5 rebounds.
• Uros Plavsic also played well during that two-game series, averaging 9.0 points while shooting 7-of-8 from the field and 4-of-5 from the line.
• Tennessee has won its last 11 games against in-state opponents and is 27-5 vs. in-state foes under coach Rick Barnes.
• Those 27 wins came against Vanderbilt (12x), Tennessee Tech (5x), ETSU (3x), Lipscomb (twice), Austin Peay, Chattanooga, Memphis, Tennessee State and UT Martin.
• Thus far in SEC play, the opposing team’s leading scorer has struggled to produce against the Vols.
• Those top scorers are collectively being held 11.1 points below their average.
PLAYER, TEAM                        BEFORE          vs. UT    VARIANCE
Matthew Murrell, UM                 15.6 ppg           5            -10.6
Tolu Smith, MSU                       14.8 ppg           9            -5.8
GG Jackson, South Carolina    16.9 ppg           0            -16.9
• Consider the following five-man lineup: Zakai ZeiglerJahmai MashackJosiah-Jordan JamesTobe Awaka and Jonas Aidoo.
• Each of those Vols currently comes off the bench! During SEC play, that group is accounting for 35.0 ppg.
• Where would a team featuring that starting five finish in this year’s SEC standings?
• In his first 10 games this season, Jonas Aidoo made just 15 of 41 field-goal attempts (.366).
• In the four games since, Aidoo is shooting 16-for-26 (.615) from the field.
• During that four-game span, Aidoo is giving the Vols 8.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
• Senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua is shooting 35-of-46 (.761) from the field during Tennessee’s last five games. He has shot 50 percent or better from the field in all but two games.
• On Jan. 7 at South Carolina, he tied a Tennessee program record by shooting 10-for-10 from the field during a 21 and 10 double-double performance.
• A starter in every game this season, Nkamhoua is UT’s second-leading scorer (12.0 ppg) while ranking third on the team in both rebounding (4.9 rpg) and assists (2.5 apg).
• He totaled 41 assists through his first three seasons as a Vol (76 games) and already has 37 this year.
• That’s an impressive bounce-back after suffering a season-ending ankle injury at South Carolina last season on Feb. 5.
• Tennessee defeated Mississippi State by 34 points (87-53) on Jan. 3 and then went on the road to beat South Carolina by 43 points (85-42) on Jan. 7.
• It was the first time since 1965 that the Vols had beaten consecutive SEC opponents by 30+ points.
• Tennessee is riding an active 24-game home win streak at Thompson-Boling Arena, which dates to its final home game of 2020-21 (March 7, 2021). It is the fourth-longest active win streak in the country.
• Last season, for the fourth time in the history of Thompson-Boling Arena (which opened for the 1987-88 season), the Vols went undefeated at home. Tennessee was a perfect 16-0 on Rocky Top, marking the second unblemished home record under head coach Rick Barnes.
• The basketball Vols are undefeated (8-0) when Alyssa Lang is assigned to the game as the courtside reporter.
• Even Tennessee football is unbeaten with Lang working the sidelines (5-0).

-UT Athletics

Vols F Tobe Awaka / Credit: UT Athletics

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