The Tennessee Volunteers have been up-and-down in conference play. After winning at Georgia 72-65 and losing big to Vanderbilt in Knoxville (88-63 on January 8), they pulled off two big victories (64-63 over Mississippi State in Knoxville and 83-76 over Florida at Gainesville). But they also lost at South Carolina 66-63 and at home to Kentucky 84-62, and dropped a non-conference game at Louisville 85-62. On Saturday they reached a low point by losing on the road to a very undersized and thin Auburn team 62-59.
Since the early moments of the Louisville game the Vols have been without their center, 6-10 senior Brandon Crump. A severe ankle sprain has caused him to miss the last two games entirely and he is not expected to play against Vanderbilt. Although he has not been having a great year, he is still the team's fourth leading scorer (11.6 ppg) and is second in rebounding (5.4 per game).
Leading scorer Scooter McFadgon, a 6-5 senior, is in a bad shooting slump. Over the past three games he has gone 35-9 from the field. When McFadgon is "on," the Vols are a much more dangerous team, as was shown by the Florida game in which he scored 23 points. His three-point shooting has fallen off to 32.4% for the season.
6-2 freshman Chris Lofton is Tennessee's best outside shooter, having made 49.5% of his trays to date. He scored only seven points in the first Vanderbilt game and was held to only five points by Auburn. Indeed, since conference play began he has usually been held in check, although he did get loose for 17 points against Kentucky.
Point guard C.J. Watson, a 6-2 junior (11.9 ppg) has been scoring well of late, but has been getting very few assists. Indeed, he didn't get any against Auburn and only two in the first Vanderbilt game. As a ball-distributor he has steadily lost effectiveness since his freshman year. He is hitting 35.6% of his threes.
6-7 junior Andre Patterson, a transfer from UCLA (7.4 ppg), has become a starter and went 6-5 from the field in the Auburn game. Strictly an inside player on the offense, his rebounding has been very good and he has moved ahead of Crump in that category (6.4 rebounds per game).
6-10 sophomore Major Wingate (5.4 ppg) and 6-8 junior Jemere Hendrix (3.0 ppg) have had to play more minutes since Crump went down. Wingate had a 14-point performance against Kentucky. Neither of them has been having a break-out year, although Wingate seems capable of becoming a good SEC center.
The other Tennessee players are 6-4 sophomore Dane Bradshaw, 6-1 freshman Jajuan Smith, 6-5 junior Stanley Asumnu, and 6-3 freshman Jordan Howell. The spirited Bradshaw (2.1 ppg) is a key reserve who penetrates the defense very well when handling the ball.
Tennessee seems to have the personnel for a much better season than they are having. But a look at their team statistics shows that they are mediocre or weak in most categories. Among SEC teams, they rank from 8th to 10th in points scored, points yielded, scoring margin, field goal defense, rebounding margin, assists, turnover margin, assist/turnover margin, and steals. They compare best in field goal shooting (6th), free-throw shooting (4th), and number of three-pointer made (6th), but worst in defense against three-pointers (11th).
With Crump on the sidelines, Tennessee still has decent size and rebounding potential. For them to have a good chance at Vanderbilt, and to finish conference play well, they will need plenty of scoring from McFadgon, Watson, and Lofton, and effective rebounding from Patterson, Wingate and Hendrix. Watson, who is a very quiet person, must somehow recover his freshman-year effectiveness at the point.
When two inconsistent teams play each other, it is difficult to guess what might happen. The key may very well be Vanderbilt's defense, which was so effective against Mississippi. If they are still strong in that area, the Dores should win, although probably not by 25 points again. Vanderbilt is selected to make it a season sweep by eight to fifteen by again holding McFadgon, Lofton, and Watson to a combined 40 points, as happened on January 8.