The Tennessee Volunteers come into Saturday's game with a record of 16-10, and 8-7 in conference play. Without doubt they are a "bubble team" that might or might not go to the NCAA tournament. Finishing with a 9-7 conference record, by beating Vanderbilt, would go a long way toward getting them into the Big Dance.
Wednesday, Tennessee defeated Mississippi State 59-49 in Knoxville, thus ending a four-game losing streak. The Vols have three conference road wins (over Mississippi, Auburn and Arkansas), and won at home over Florida and Georgia. They defeated Vanderbilt in Knoxville 71-66 on January 18.
6-8 senior Ron Slay continues to lead the Vols in scoring with 21.6 ppg, and in rebounding (7.8 grabs per game). He is making 37.5% of his three-point attempts. However, at times he has tried to do too much and the team has suffered as a result. For instance, in the recent 88-67 loss to LSU, Slay alone had more turnovers than the opposing team. Despite his lapses, he is sure to make the all-conference first team.
6-10 sophomore Brandon Crump is the only other scorer in double-digits (10.6 ppg). His 5.5 rebounds places him second on the team in that category. Unlike Slay he is a shot-blocking threat.
6-1 point guard C.J. Watson is certain to be named to the conference all-freshman team. He averages 9.4 ppg and has an excellent assist/turnover ratio (5.6 to 2.9). He makes 39% of his outside shots, snares 4.4 rebounds per game, and logs an average of nearly 36 minutes.
The other two starters are both seniors, 6-3 Jon Higgins and 6-0 Thaydeus Holden. Higgins averages nine points per game and Holden eight. They are both good three-point shooters, Higgins making about 41% of his attempts and Holden 43%. Against Vanderbilt on January 18, Holden scored 18 points and hit all five of his three point shots.
Tennessee gets significant minutes from four non-starters. Two of them are sophomores, 6-8 Elgrace Wilborn and 6-6 Derek Stribling; and two are freshmen, 6-4 Stanley Asumnu nd 6-3 John Winchester. All four average between 1.6 and 2.9 ppg. Wilborn backs up Slay and Crump and is a strong 230-pounder who is the best shot-blocker on the team, as well as averaging 4.4 rebounds.
7-0 freshman Boomer Herndon, a Nashville native, is averaging less than three minutes and has appeared in only eleven games.
Before the season began, Tennessee seemed to be about on a par with Vanderbilt in terms of expectations. If Coach Buzz Peterson gets his team into the NCAA tournament, he will have done an outstanding job of coaching.
After the Kentucky debacle, it might seem that the Vanderbilt players would have to be dejected and lacking in confidence. Perhaps they will be, but that is by no means certain. Teams sometimes bounce back vigorously from terrible defeats; for instance Alabama came back from a similar loss to Auburn several years ago (David Hobbs's last year at the helm) and in the next game almost upset powerful Kentucky in Louisville.
Tennessee does not have Kentucky's level of talent and tremendous momentum. It will be senior night for Vanderbilt, but only walk-on Matt Carter is completing his eligibility. This will probably be a very close game. Tennessee seems to have more to play for and the prediction is for the Vols to win by five points or less.