After the first 25 minutes of play Vanderbilt was ahead of Kentucky in Tuesday night's game in Memorial Gymnasium by nine points, but then the situation changed totally. From then on the Commodores turned the ball over repeatedly and got off very few shots. The Wildcats' defense completely dominated the game. An 8-of-15 Vanderbilt three-point shooting performance was wasted. It was a demoralizing loss for the Commodores to an opponent that they seemed well on their way to defeating. Mario Moore was the leading scorer for Vanderbilt with a caree-high 17 points, while Matt Freije had 15.
The Tennessee Vounteers come into this game with an overall record of 8-4, and 1-2 in conference play. They were edged out by Kentucky 74-71 in Knoxville, then went to Mississippi and pulled off a 66-64 upset. On Wednesday, they lost to the Florida Gators in Gainesville, 77-64. In non-conference play their best wins were over over Georgia Tech (70-69 in Atlanta) and New Mexico (71-64 in Knoxville), and their two losses were to Texas A. and M. (83-66) and West Virginia (65-62), both on the road.
Tennessee's leading scorer, who also has the highest scoring average in the conference, is 6-8 senior Ron Slay, a native of Nashville. Slay is a 240-pound power forward who was red-shirted last year because of a knee injury. His 21.6-ppg average is based on 44.6% shooting from the field, 34% on three-pointers (16 of 47 to date), and 83.5% from the free-throw line. Against Florida he went 7-of-24 from the field and made only one of eight three-point attempts. He is a good defensive player (but no shot-blocker), and easily leads the team in rebounds with eight per game.
6-10 sophomore center Brandon Crump, 6-3 senior shooting guard Jon Higgins, and 6-1 freshman point guard C.J. Watson all average around ten points per game. Crump is strictly an inside player and grabs 6.3 rebounds per game. Higgins is an excellent outside shooter (47.5% on 29 of 61 three-pointers). Watson easily leads the team in assists, with 5.4 per game, and is hitting 42% of his threes.
Slay, Crump, Higgins, and Watson start every game. Four other players share most of the other duties and any of them may start. They are 6-0 senior Thaydeus Holden, 6-8 sophomore Elgrace Wilburn, 6-6 sophomore Derek Stribling, and 6-4 freshman Stanley Asumnu. Holden is scoring 4.8 ppg and is an outside threat. Wilburn is the best shot-blocker on the team and gets about five rebounds per game. Stribling is scoring 4.8 ppg and is likeliest of the four to start. Asumnu is scoring 3.1 ppg.
Looking at the team statistics, Tennessee is easily the best free-throw shooting team in the SEC. The Vols are second best in rebounding margin, and fifth in assists/turnover ratio. They are fifth in three-point shooting percentage, and rank fourth in the number of three-pointers made per game. They are only ninth in overall field goal shooting. Tennessee is a decent defensive team, ranking fourth or fifth in most related categories.
More than any other team in the SEC, Tennessee is dominated by one player. Ron Slay has been the leading scorer in ten of their twelve games. He scored 38 points against New Mexico, 31 against Gardner-Webb, and 28 against Georgia Tech. The Commodores aren't likely to hold him to much less than 20 points because he shoots a lot from both the field and free throw line. The key is to make him take a lot of shots in comparison to the points that he makes.
With two excellent road victories, one in the conference and one outside, the Volunteers seem to be making better progress than the Commodores. With the home court advantage they will be favored and should win by three to ten points. However, Vanderbilt has a decent chance to win most of its conference games, including this one.