Tennessee’s conference season didn’t get off to the start any one invested in the program would have liked with a 78-64 loss to LSU at TBA. While there were some flashes of what the future may hold, especially in the play of newcomer Santiago Vescovi (18pts 6reb), there were also some glaring problems and deficiencies where the boys in orange are concerned. The Vols (8-5, 0-1 SEC) will go up against the Missouri Tigers (8-5,0-1 SEC) in CoMo on Tuesday, and hopefully will walk away with their first conference win on the season. Let’s take a look at Missouri’s program and what we may see from them against the Vols.
Misery, Missouri- it’s all the same
- School: University of Missouri
- Location: Columbia, Missouri
- Mascot: Tigers
- Conference: SEC
- Coach: Cuonzo Martin (3rd season)
- 2019-2020 Record: (8-5, 0-1 SEC)
- 2018-2019 Record: (15-17, 5-13 SEC)
- Last Game Against Tennessee: 2/5/2019- UT as number 1 defeated an injury plagued Mizzou squad 72-60 in Knoxville
- Notable Alumnus: U.T. Basketball Assistant Coach Kim English (former Missouri Tiger and Detroit Piston)
A Tale of Two Tigers (and…Smiths)
Missouri is not an extremely talented team. I would even go as so far as to say they are pretty bad. They are still trying to nail down a starting rotation, and ol’ Cuonzo looks like he may be having a difficult time getting them to play together. With that being said, there are two players, both guards, that Vol fans need to be aware of.
The first player is Dru Smith, a 6’3” Redshirt Junior Guard. Smith, who was a fine player at Evansville before transferring to Missouri, is a slightly above average Point Guard. Already having a couple of accolades under his belt from the MVC, Dru is looking to finish his career at a higher profile school and help coach Martin return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since his first year at the helm. This season, Dru Smith is averaging 11.7 points, a 4.2 assists:2.7 turnovers ratio (1.57a:t ratio, for you purists), 2.2 steals and 4.5 boards. He is Missouri’s do-it-all player and serves as their Point Guard most of the time. The good news for the Vols is that sometimes he gets bitten by the turnover bug. He has 4 games this season with 4+ turnovers.
He doesn’t shoot from outside often, but is a capable outside shooter. Look for him to serve as the Tigers’ compass- if he struggles, the team tends to as well. Finally, he may be matched up with Vescovi, who looks to be still adjusting to the speed of College Basketball. This will be a good test for Santiago as Dru is a solid defender and can pick his opponent’s pocket if they aren’t careful with the ball.
Next is the off-guard with the same surname, Mark Smith (FWIW: Mizzou hasa actually rolled out a starting lineup containing three different “Smiths” a couple of times this season). Mark Smith is a shooting guard, and you’ll see that his position’s title fits his play. He has a quick trigger from deep and shoots at a 39% clip from 3. We all know that Tennessee likes to give up some 3s sometimes, so if Mark Smith gets rolling, we could be in for a long night. There isn’t anything Mark Smith does incredibly well, but like his backcourt counterpart Dru Smith, they are each solid players.
While those are your two big threats to score, it is always important when scouting a U.T. opponent to look at their post play. Jeremiah Tilmon averages just over 9 points a game and 4.3 rebounds. However, his 6’10, 260lb. frame could give our much smaller frontcourt some difficulty. Pay attention to Tilmon and whoever Barnes matches against him, likely John Fulkerson.
The Big Orange
Again, this will be a tough game to posit on knowing that it’s a completely new look team since the loss of Lamonte Turner and addition of Santiago Vescovi. We will need to see if Vescovi can contribute again and improve in ball security. We also really need Jordan Bowden to snap out of his recent funk. This is a game the Vols can win, but every player they trot out must contribute. Backcourt play for the Vols is going to be of vital importance, and we cannot afford to turn the ball over a lot or struggle to score from outside.
The post play could also help us in a big way. The Vols have shown that while their down-low guys are a very average group, they always play hard and often at a higher level than we as fans would imagine. Tilmon is Mizzou’s only consistent down low player, and if we stop him and either Fulkerson or Pons has a decent game, that could be a big step towards a big orange victory.
Any team that is coached by Cuonzo Martin is tough, has a chance to beat any team on any night, but is also typically underwhelming and flat (We remember these days, right?). I think that Tennessee is far and away more athletic and talented than the Tigers, but without us firing on all cylinders as of late, I am concerned that this game will be much closer than said talent level would indicate.
However, I think the Vols will get conference win number one on Tuesday in CoMo. My prediction is 64-58 Vols.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. The Vols really need this win to get that 0 off the left hand of the win-loss column in conference play. In an SEC that is down by all accounts, each win will go far for the Vols. For minute to minute news concerning all aspects of all Volunteer sports, be sure to check out MoreImportantIssues on Twitter (@More_Issues), as well as listening to the podcast on any of the various podcast platforms! Trust me, Landon and Caleb won’t let you down If you’re looking for quality Big Orange talk with some laughs sprinkled in. Until we meet again, this is Dakota Robertson saying goodnight and Go Vols!
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