Tennessee basketball has tipped off the season with a 3-1, winning their last three consecutive games after dropping their season-opener on the road against Xavier.
All three of the Vols’ victories have come at home, but now they will head out the Paradise Islands in the Bahamas to partake in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament that will take place over the Thanksgiving break from Nov. 28-30.
A schedule boost to say the least, participating in the tournament alone will be a boost for the Vols’ RPI rating in the long-run, but big victories is what will be needed to get Tennessee back into the NCAA tournament, a ticket that has eluded them since the departure of Coach Bruce Pearl three seasons ago.
Tennessee will tip-off the three-day-tournament at 9:30 p.m. eastern time on Thursday, Nov. 28, against UTEP (3-2). Depending on the outcome of each game the Vols will either play Iowa or Xavier, for the second time this season, in the second round.
Beginning with UTEP, here’s a team by team breakdown of all the opponents Tennessee could face over the weekend.
UTEP: The Miners are 3-2, with both of their losses coming against New Mexico State in just a four game span.
UTEP is led in scoring by junior guard McKenzie Moore, who is averaging 14 points per game in only three contests this season. His best effort thus far came in an 82-74 victory over Colorado State.
The Miners also have a six-foot-10 forward, Cedrick Lang, who is second in scoring on the team by averaging 11 points per contest, and leads the team in rebounding with 7.3 per game. Lang’s best performance came in UTEP’s first loss to NMSU where he finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
The most intriguing matchup on Thursday will be how Vols’ big men, Jeronne Maymon, and Jarnell Stokes handle Lang on the boards, as well as keeping him from getting looks for easy baskets down low.
Iowa: The No. 23 Hawkeyes are undefeated (5-0). While they have yet to play an honorable opponent, they have taken every opportunity to thrash each team they’ve played against so far. Iowa is ranked fifth in the nation in rebounding, and seventh in points per game.
The Hawkeyes are led by the power duo of senior guard Roy Devyn Marble, and junior forward Aaron White. Marble is averaging 14.6 points, 3.8 assists, and 3.2 steals per game, while White is averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
White had his best overall performance two games ago against Nebraska-Omaha when he pulled in 15 rebounds and dropped 20 points in the Hawkeyes 83-75 victory, their only victory by less than 31 points on the season.
If the Vols are to face Iowa in round two of the Battle 4 Atlantis, the matchup again will be inside, but it will still be up to the guards of Josh Richardson, Jordan McRae, Darius Thompson, and Antonio Barton to keep Marble in check, and not let him go on a scoring spree, or give him easy distributions and allow the rest of the team to score.
Xavier: The Vols have already faced, and lost in a 67-63 decision, to Xavier earlier this year. Since then the Musketeers have remained undefeated, and have beaten every opponent by at least 23 points.
Semaj Christon leads the Musketeers in scoring, and had a phenomenal night when he played Tennessee a few weeks back while everyone else struggled to find the net. The sophomore finished with 18 points against the Vols, his second best effort of the season (had 20 points against Morehead St.).
Christon, however, wasn’t alone that night, as he had plenty of help from six-foot-10 junior Matt Stainbrook.
Stainbrook is second on the team in scoring for Xavier, and leads the team in rebounds by averaging 9.2 per game. Back on Nov. 12 against the Vols he pulled in nine boards while battling both Stokes and Maymon on the glass, and was a large part in getting Stokes to foul out late in the second half.
Maymon and Stokes will have to look for redemption down in the post if they get their second shot at Xavier, while the Vols backcourt will have to do a better job containing Christon on the defensive end.
Villanova: The Wildcats will also enter the tournament undefeated at 4-0, with their closest game thus far coming in their season opener when they defeated Lafayette by 16 points.
Villanova is the second representative from the Big East (Xavier being the other team) in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They will also bring a threatening tandem to the Bahamas in the form of junior six-foot-seven forward JayVaughn Pinkston, and senior guard James Bell.
The two combine for 38.3 points per game. Pinkston leads the team in scoring with 20.3 points per contest. Although listed as a forward, when looking at the stat sheet you would think he was the guard out of the two players.
Bell is hauling in seven rebounds per game as a guard. While he can be notorious for battling on the boards, he also has a sweet perimeter game as well. He’s connected on 10-of-28 shots from beyond the arc so far this season.
Tennessee will have to be solid all-around if they face Villanova. Like the Vols, Villanova has size at every position, and both play with a hard-nose mentality, which could make for one of the most evenly matched matchups of the tournament if the two are to square-off in the Paradise Islands.
USC: Although 4-1, the Trojans have not been a very impressive team to begin the 2013-2014 season.
They dropped their first game of the season on the road against Utah State. Since then they’ve won four straight, but all victories have come at home against Cal State Northridge, Northern Arizona, Cal State Fullerton, and West Alabama. Combined the four schools have a record of 7-11.
Junior guard Byron Wesley, and senior center Omar Oraby lead the team in both points and rebounds. Combined, the duo average 33.4 points and 16.6 rebounds per game, which is well over a third of the teams totals in both statistical categories.
Unless they drop game one on Thursday night, it will be unlikely the Vols will see USC in this tournament. If they do, though, the key will be keeping Wesley and Oraby off the boards, and limiting second-chance points for the Trojans.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons, like four of the eight team field, will also enter the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament undefeated at 5-0. They are led by Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devon Thomas.
While Miller-McIntyre is the one who can shoot lights out from the floor, Thomas is the banger down low who fights and scrapes for rebounds and second-chance baskets.
Miller-McIntyre comes into the tournament averaging 18.6 points and 4.8 assists per game. He shoots a nice 48.4 percent from the field, including 31.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Thomas on the other hand is a walking double-double. Literally, the six-foot-nine sophomore is averaging 14.4 points along with 11.6 rebounds so far this season. His most complete performance thus far was a 20 point, 17 rebound game in a 98-71 victory over VMI. Thomas has two double-doubles, both in which came in back-to-back games this season.
If the Vols find themselves in a matchup against the Demon Deacons it could be trouble for the boys in orange. Maymon and Stokes would have their hands full with one of the best big men in the nation to this point, while Tennessee’s guards would have the daunting task of controlling a versatile guard in Miller-McIntyre.
Kansas: Perhaps the team to beat in the tournament, the No. 2 Jayhawks will be everyone’s target throughout the weekend.
At 4-0 Kansas has already dismantled at then No. 4 Duke team, and leads the nation in field goal percentage, shooting 56.8 percent from the floor as a team.
The Jayhawks are led by their two best scorers, both averaging 16.8 points per game, Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins.
Ellis, a six-foot-eight sophomore is shooting almost 70 percent from the field. In back-to-back games he posted 20+ point performances, including a 24-point showing against No. 4 Duke, his best of the season.
Wiggins is the superstar freshman Bill Self was able to lure away from Kentucky, and he hasn’t disappointed. Like Ellis, Wiggins best game so far came against Duke as he added 22 points while pulling down eight rebounds in their 94-83 victory.
With their size and versatility it’ll be hard to knock-off the No. 2 Jayhawks, who are indeed No. 2 in the nation for a reason. Most likely the only way the Vols get their shot at Kansas is by winning out and making it to the championship game on Saturday night. Although it may look next to impossible, the last time Tennessee and Kansas met on the hardwood, the Vols weren’t given much chance and still prevailed against a then No. 1 ranked Kansas team.
The entire Battle 4 Atlantis tournament will be aired on NBC Sports Network