The matchup will feature two of the most explosive offenses in the NCAA, with Tennessee coming in leading the SEC in scoring at 85.3ppg (ninth in the nation) and Marquette leading the Big East with 82.8 ppg (13th in the nation).
As these two high octane offenses collide Lazar Hayward and the Golden Eagles know all too well what Tennessee can bring to the court.
"They have a lot of really good players," said Hayward. "They have a good bench and they play really fast just like us."
"They play really fast" may just be an understatement. In eight games this year Tennessee is averaging 76.8 possessions per 40 minutes – good for the ninth highest in Division 1 basketball.
The tempo of the Volunteer's style derives largely in part to the amazing depth and athleticism Bruce Pearl's squad possesses. Ten players average over ten minutes per game and six players score over eight points per contest.
"There are very few teams that have ten high major players," said Coach Buzz Williams. "They have ten high major players and they just keep bringing them at you."
Yet Tennessee does have weaknesses. In their loss to Temple on Saturday, they allowed the Owls to shoot 55 percent from the floor and 40 percent from beyond the arc.
In Tennessee's two losses this season, the opposing team has also been able to force the Volunteers into bad shots, resulting in 36 percent shooting from the floor and 26 percent shooting from beyond the arc in those games. Gonzaga and Temple also kept the eighth-best offensive rebounding team off the glass, out rebounding Tennessee in each game, respctively.
Wesley Matthews understands that disrupting Tennessee's offensive style will be a key to Tuesday's game.
"We can't let them get comfortable, shoot threes, and crash the offensive glass, which they're good at," said Matthews. "That takes us away from what we're good at which is getting up into you, causing pressure, making you take shots that you don't want to take. The more shots that they take that they're not expecting, the less chance they get the offensive rebound."
Bruce Pearl's Volunteers also will implement a full-court press; a defense Matthews believes the Golden Eagles are more than ready for.
"They like to make it a 94-foot game," said Matthews. "That's fine with us because we have the players to make plays out of those situations."
Coach Buzz Williams and Marquette aren't fooled by the game's "neutral" site in Nashville, Tennessee.
"It's a neutral site game about 250 miles away from their campus so you'll see a lot of orange," commented Coach Williams.
In this hostile atmosphere against an athletic and deep Tennessee squad Senior Wesley Matthews understands what they team may ask of him and the starters, four of which are averaging 28 or more minutes per contest.
"We might be called on to play 39 minute game to lead the team and pull the team together out of slumps," said Matthews. "We have to come ready, everybody."
TENESSEE STARTING FIVE
Bobby Maze – The 6-2 junior guard comes into the contest averaging 9.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.9 apg while shooting 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. Maze, a Junior College All-American in 2007-2008, was brought in by Pearl to solve Tennessee's inconsistency at the point guard. He has stepped up to that challenge, averaging nearly 27 minutes a contest. Dominic James faces a difficult match-up and must look to keep Maze out of his rhythm offensively and not allow open threes off screens and quick swings.
Josh Tabb – A 6-4 junior guard, Tabb was called into extended minutes during Saturday's lost to Temple due to the injury of Tennessee's second-leading scorer, J.P. Prince. Prince is listed as questionable and is expected to miss Tuesday's matchup. In the extended minutes Tabb failed to make an impact on the game, playing 30 minutes and going scoreless. At this point in the season, Tabb's numbers are unremarkable –3.4 ppg, 1.4 apg and a 1.67 assist-to-turnover ratio. Jerel McNeal appears to have the advantage in this matchup. Look for McNeal to jump into the passing lanes to disrupt Tabb early and often.
Scotty Hopson – A five-star recruit for the Volunteers, the 6-6 small forward has shown his ability to score on multiple occasions this year, notching 16 in the first game of the season and 17 in the loss to Gonzaga. In 20.6 minutes of action this year, Hopson has provided a lift for Tennessee with his three point shot – hitting 50 percent on 12-of-24 shooting. Although Hopson has shot well this year, his assist-to-turnover ratio remains questionable – seven assists compared to 13 turnovers. Wes Matthews most likely will have the defensive assignment and must pressure Hopson to take ill-advised shots. Otherwise Hopson's sharpshooting could prove problematic for the Golden Eagles.
Tyler Smith – Smith is the leading scorer for Bruce Pearl this year and is averaging 17.4 points a contest in 29.8 minutes. Smith recorded the first triple-double in school history against UNC-Ashville earlier in the month, collecting 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Smith does everything for the Volunteers, averaging 5.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per contest while shooting 47.5 percent from the floor. The junior forward should prove a formidable opponent for Lazar Hayward, who must remain out of foul trouble while guarding Smith, the leader in free throws attempted by more than twenty for the Volunteers this year.
Brian Williams – A 6-10 center, Williams comes into the contest averaging 7.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg in 16.6 minutes a game and may be a problem for Marquette's frontcourt. Williams recorded a double-double earlier in the year against UT-Martin, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, and he has reached double-digits in rebounds twice so far in the 2008-2009 campaign. Senior Dwight Burke and sophomore Pat Hazel will again be asked to shoulder the load down low defensively and their ability to remain out of foul trouble will be crucial to Marquette's success.
TENESSEE BENCH – The Volunteers bring loads of talent off their bench. Two key reserves will be Wayne Chism, a 6-9 forward who is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game, and Cameron Tatum, a 6-6 small forward who is contributing 9.9 ppg. Both players could start on numerous top-tier Division 1 teams. Tennessee's depth versus Marquette's depleted reserves stands as a glaring weakness for the Golden Eagles and could be the deciding factor in Nashville on Tuesday.
Zach Newman is a sophomore in the College of Business majoring in Marketing and International Business.