Getting to know: Tennessee basketball
No. 3 Kansas will return to the court for the first time since being involved with an all-out brawl following its 81-60 win over Kansas State on Tuesday.
As part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, the Jayhawks will welcome Tennessee to town Saturday afternoon. The game will be the site of ESPN College GameDay. It marks the 18th time KU has been a part of a College GameDay during the regular season. KU is 11-6 all-time when it is one of the two teams featured on GameDay.
So far during this annual conference battle, the Big 12 has claimed bragging rights in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019. The SEC claimed its lone win in 2018, and the series was tied in 2017. All in all, the Big 12 has a cumulative advantage of 35-25 in this challenge.
This season, the Volunteers enter the matchup with an overall record of 12-6 after winning back-to-back games. Tennessee is the No. 50 team in the nation on KenPom, a site that also gives KU a 91% chance of victory. Kansas (15-3) is projected to win by a 69-54 margin.
KU leads the series with Tennessee, 3-1, including an 1-0 record in Lawrence. The first meeting was in Allen Fieldhouse, and was a 92-85 win for KU on Jan. 3, 2009.
Tipoff is slated for 3 p.m.
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BREAKING DOWN TENNESSEE
No. 35 — F Yves Pons | 6-6, 215, jr.
At 6-foot-6, Pons is the SEC’s leading shot blocker and has blocked at least one shot in every game this season.
In fact, his streak of 18 consecutive games with at least one block is the longest such stretch by a UT player since C.J. Black put together an 18-game streak in 1998. Pons has blocked three or more shots in 10 different games this season, which includes a program-record six blocks against Jacksonville State on Dec. 21.
In addition, Pons has evolved as an offensive player in his junior campaign. After scoring a total of 94 points over his first two seasons, Pons surpassed that mark in his first eight games of his junior campaign. This season, Pons is averaging 10.7 points per game.
Pons is expected to make it to the next level as well. In the ESPN 2021 NBA Mock Draft, which was released on Jan. 22, Pons was projected as the 52nd overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers.
No. 23 — G Jordan Bowden | 6-5, 193, sr.
Leading the team in scoring this season is Bowden.
Bowden is averaging 12.3 points per game for the Volunteers. He is also averaging 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest. Bowden has the seventh-most career rebounds among all active players in the SEC with 408 boards in his career.
Bowden has also been excellent at taking care of the rock, posting a turnover rate of just 12.2% through 18 games. UT rarely has a lineup without Bowden in the mix. He plays 83.6% of the team’s minutes.
No. 10 — F John Fulkerson | 6-9, 212, r-jr.
Fulkerson has provided consistent production in the frontcourt this season, but he’s picked it up as of late.
During SEC play, Fulkerson leads the team in scoring (11.3 ppg), rebounding (7.0 rpg) and steals (1.3 spg) while shooting 62.5% from the field and 90.0% from the free-throw line. For the season, Fulkerson has averaged 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per outing on a 66.4% clip from the floor.
Plays ending with a field goal attempt by Fulkerson have been efficient. Fulkerson is averaging a team-best 1.7 points per shot this season.
MEET THE COACH
Tennessee is coached by Rick Barnes who is 100-56 in his fifth season at UT and 704-370 in his 33rd season overall.
ONE THING TENNESSEE IS GOOD AT
Due to its frontcourt play, Tennessee has been excellent at limiting teams on 2-point shots. Opposing teams are shooting 41.2% from the floor on 2-point attempts, which is the fourth-best defensive clip in the country.
ONE THING TENNESSEE IS BAD AT
The Volunteers have struggled at taking care of the rock, a trait that won’t be too favorable in this matchup. UT is posting a turnover rate of 20.8%, which ranks 268th in all of college basketball on KenPom.
Kansas is a 13.5-point favorite, which is a pretty big number given that the hosts will only have a seven-player rotation. But the Jayhawks have their key players still, and they will be forced to use more of a four-guard lineup now. UT’s turnovers issues will also be a major key in Allen Fieldhouse, giving Kansas an opportunity to score in transition and break this game completely open.
Prediction: Kansas 74, Tennessee 58
This year’s record ATS: 9-8