After an overtime loss against No. 2 Kansas, Tennessee looks to bounce back at home against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels on Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Against the Jayhawks, the Vols showed scrappiness, but the loss of Grant Williams to foul trouble with 1:24 to go in regulation left Tennessee without its best player heading into overtime. Williams should be able to avoid such issues against the Colonels, but his absence in the extra period against Kansas spoke volumes about how Tennessee’s offense may struggle if it has to press forward without him at a later point this season.
The Vols currently sit at 4-1, and Eastern Kentucky is 3-3 on the season.
Against Kansas, Tennessee could never seem to pull away from a pesky Jayhawks team, but the Vols should have little trouble dismantling a Colonels squad that lost to No. 12 Kansas State by 27 points.
In his Tuesday press conference, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes- who surpassed John Wooden on college basketball’s all-time wins list last Wednesday- hinted that a roster change may take place for Wednesday’s matchup.
“I don’t want anybody to get comfortable,” Barnes said. “I want them to know we’re willing to make changes up until we’re done playing.”
Later, during Tuesday’s practice, Barnes suggested that that roster change will likely come in the form of Tennessee sophomore forward Yves Pons, who’s averaged 3.0 points and 3.4 rebounds so far this season.
“He’s a guy that defends, the way he goes to the basket, making things happen,” Barnes said. “I think overall we have a group of guys that work, but he’s a guy that goes above and beyond and is one of the hardest workers we have on our team.”
Aside from praising Pons, Barnes also issued a gut-check to some of other Tennessee’s bench players.
“Some of the other guys that came in (weren’t) really linked in with what we were trying to do as a team,” he said. “It only takes one or two possessions to get everything out of the rhythm.”
The Vols will look to find and maintain that rhythm against against the Colonels.
Eastern Kentucky’s offense runs straight through its post presence, namely senior Nick Mayo. He averages 25 points and 9.2 rebounds a game, and he has also been named a three-time member of the Ohio Valley Conference’s first team.
Look for Tennessee’s defense to attempt to suffocate Mayo, thus forcing the ball to the perimeter, where EKU has knocked down just 31.7 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. The Colonels do average 86 points per game, though, so Tennessee will need to force early stops in order to take a big lead early.
On the other side of the ball, the Vols are led by Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. So far this season, Williams is averaging 21.6 points per game, but the Vols’ consistent double-digit scoring presence from all five offensive starters will come to an end on Wednesday if Pons doesn’t produce.
In a game like this, the Vols must ensure that they improve on free-throw percentage. Against Kansas, Tennessee attempted just 17 shots from the charity stripe, which notches in at just half of the 34 free throws taken by the Jayhawks.
“Not to take anything away from Kansas, but you can’t have that big a discrepancy in free throws,” Barnes said after the loss to KU.
Then Barnes paused to collect his thoughts before continuing.
“Well, you can,” Barnes noted, “if you refuse to drive the ball.”
Currently, Tennessee only shoots 66.4 percent from the line. Assuming the Vols can drive the lane against the Colonels, that percentage is one that Tennessee will look to improve upon before it faces No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 9.
Before that, though, Tennessee must take on the Colonels and, after that, Texas A&M Corpus-Christi on Sunday.
Tip-off against EKU is scheduled for 6:30 PM ET on Wednesday, and the game can be viewed on the SEC Network.
Featured image courtesy of Jake Nichols.
Edited by Jake Nichols.