Let's Meet The Vols Again
Record: 16-15, 8-11 in SEC play.
When the Vols beat Arkansas back in January, they were a top 100 team starting off their SEC season with a 4-1 record. When they lost in Fayetteville, it turned out to be the second game of what was a 3-10 run to end the season. Tennessee ended up in 10th place in the league.
RPI: They had fallen out of the top 100 and ranked as Arkansas' worst loss of the year, but beating Vanderbilt appears to have pushed them back into the top 100 around #95 according to the up-to-the-minute RPI sites (Clemson is back to ranking as the Hogs' worst loss).
KenPom rates the Vols #87 and gives Arkansas a 70% chance of winning.
Player to Watch: Josh Richardson is Tennessee's star. The senior point guard put up 20 points against Arkansas in Fayetteville and 19 in Knoxville. He averages 15.6 points per game and over 36 minutes per game. He played 38 minutes against Vanderbilt while scoring 22 points.
6'5" small forward Armani Moore and 6'4" shooting guard Kevin Punter also both average over 10 points per game. Moore also grabs 6.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore Robert Hubbs has had some of his best games against the Razorbacks. He scored 16 in the Knoxville game which is still his career high (which he tied against Vanderbilt on Thursday night) and 15 in the Fayetteville game. Hubbs is the one who missed the three against Arkansas that likely would have sent the game to overtime.
How Will The Game Go?
Arkanas has better points-per-100 possessions numbers on both offense and defense than Tennessee, as you would expect when comparing the 2nd place team in the conference to the 10th place team.
Tennessee, you might remember, plays that somewhat unique zone defense that gave Arkansas fits in both of the previous games. The Vols are the only SEC team that can boast similar turnover numbers on defense to Arkansas.
The Razorbacks committed 18 turnovers in each of the first two games and for the most part didn't shoot particularly well. The first 30 minutes in Knoxville were disastrous for the Razorbacks and Tennessee also had a brief second half lead in Fayetteville. The Hogs needed 14 2nd half points from Michael Qualls to pull out that second game.
There aren't many categories in which Tennessee can claim to be great, but they did lead the league in offensive rebounding percentage in SEC play, and Arkansas gave up the most offensive rebounds by percentage. That's the Vols' biggest advantage statistically.
Bobby Portis scored 17 points in both games. Michael Qualls scored 15 and 17. Anton Beard was also in double figures both times. You have to have a zone buster and Beard was able to provide that for the Hogs, but he's been struggling through the last few games. Will he show up in Nashville? In the win, Arkansas also got 10 points from Alandise Harris and 9 from Ky Madden. It took an entire team effort to knock off the Vols in Fayetteville.
Also, despite forcing a lot of turnovers, Tennessee allows a decent amount of shots to go in. Opponents have made 51% of their two-point shots against the Vols in league play, next to last in the SEC. Arkansas has made 48.7% of their shots inside the arc, which is 5th in the league. Advantage, Hogs.
Keys to the Game
Tempo: Whoever controls the tempo will have a significant advantage. Arkansas plays at the highest tempo in the conference and Tennessee the slowest.
Turnovers: Arkansas lost the turnover battle in both games. That's a rarity for the Razorbacks and nearly cost them the game at Bud Walton in addition to the game in Knoxville. If Arkansas takes better care of the ball they pretty much have an advantage in every other category.
No new stars: A big part of the reason Arkansas lost to LSU was allowing Jalyn Patterson to shoot 6-8 from three after coming into the game shooting 34%. Unless Josh Richardson just has an off night, he's going to get his points. Arkansas just can't let some other player complement him with a terrific game from beyond the arc.
Stamina: The big advantage of the double bye is that Arkansas should, in theory, be much more fresh than Tennessee. It remains to be seen how big of a deal that is. Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not. For example, both of the winners from Wednesday came in and beat the "fresh" teams on Thursday. The Hogs can't bank on that working for them.