Tennessee is set to be in the national spotlight as the Vols travel to Kansas to take on the Jayhawks as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Saturday.
Tennessee is coming off a dominant win against Ole Miss and a 21-point win over rival Vanderbilt before that.
The Vols controlled the game against the Rebels, shooting the ball accurately and playing great defense. These two quality games for Tennessee follow a disappointing loss on the road to Georgia, a team which is currently 0-4 in the rest of their SEC games this season.
Vols head coach Rick Barnes talked about what plagued Tennessee against the Bulldogs.
“One thing we learned about the Georgia game is that’s not going to get it done,"Barnes said "the way we went into that game. And we had a couple guys, I’ve said looking back, that maybe I shouldn’t have played [John Fulkerson] and [Jordan] Bowden because they were sick, and just let those young get in it, but that’s not how you think as coach until after it’s over with. But with the effort we had, and don’t want to take anything anyway from Georgia at all, but we weren’t good.”
The Vols have been lucky with an easy string of games since their match-up with conference-leading LSU, getting to play 1-5 Missouri, 2-3 South Carolina, 1-4 Georgia, and 0-5 Vanderbilt, and 0-5 Ole Miss.
However, Tennessee will face a tough stretch ahead. The Vols will face both #15 Kentucky and #16 Auburn twice in the coming weeks. As such, many are wondering how Tennessee will stack up against those upper echelon teams and see this game as sort of measuring stick for the young team.
Barnes talked about the challenges Kansas pose to his team.
“I think it’s going to be a great test for us. In fact, you’re talking about of the top five teams in the country. A team that can play multiple ways. They’re not afraid at all to go with a small lineup, which we think we’ll see quite a bit on Saturday. But Bill’s teams have always been inside oriented; they like to play high low basketball.”
When the Vols take on Kansas, they will do it with a team heavy in youth. While the team is led by fourth year men Bowden and Fulkerson as well as third year man Yves Pons, the team relies heavily upon freshmen.
Josiah-Jordan James has started every game this season, and Santiago Vescovi, has started every game since his arrival campus at the beginning of this semester. The pair are averaging 31.4 and 24.2 points a game, respectively, and Vescovi, in particular, has been crucial in filling the role left by the retirement Lamonte Turner.
Coming off the bench, Olivier Nkamhoua and Devonte Gaines have also contributed notably. Nkamhoua leads the bench in scoring, averaging 14.6 points a night, while Gaines averages a solid 9.4 points a night and also started a game in the interim between Turner’s and Vescovi’s times as starter.
Barnes discussed the game’s meaning for his young players.
“With these young guys,” Barnes said “I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve always tried to play a great schedule, because we want to be in these great games, and it will be one of the biggest ones for these freshmen that they’ve been in. But you look on down the schedule, we going to be going into some great venues in our league, and so again this is going to be another test for our guys to see if they can handle a great atmosphere.”
Tennessee and Jayhawks are scheduled to tipoff this Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. The game will be available via ESPN and the Vol Network.