New week, the same story. After a blowout loss, this time to Kentucky, Tennessee returned to the hardwood with a win. This time at Memorial Gymnasium against Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt was without stars Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu. Tennessee was able to get the 70-58 win over Vanderbilt but the majority of the game was too close for comfort against such an inferior opponent.
The Vols will have a chance to put together a better performance and string two wins together when they travel to Auburn Saturday.
The 11-13 (5-10 SEC) Tigers have had a tough run of luck as of late as they are on a three-game losing streak. The Tigers have lost to Kentucky, LSU and Florida in the streak.
Tennessee has struggled against Auburn and former Vols’ head coach Bruce Pearl in recent years, losing five straight to the Tigers.
Auburn likes to get out and go on the court, offense is the name of the game for the Tigers.
Auburn averages 78 points per game on 44% shooting from the field and 32.8% shooting from behind the three-point line.
As a team, the Tigers share the ball well and get fouled. Auburn averages 15 assists per game as a team while also averaging 15 made free throws, the team shoots 71% from the free-throw line.
Auburn averages 39.3 rebounds per game while holding its opponents to an average of just 36.3 rebounds per game.
Freshman guard Sharife Cooper has taken the Tigers by storm since arriving on campus. Cooper averages 20 points per game and has 97 assists in his 12 games this season. He’s also shooting 82% from the free-throw line and averages 4.3 rebounds.
Cooper missed Auburn’s last game against Florida due to an ankle injury and it’s currently unclear if he’ll be healthy and ready to play against Tennessee on Saturday.
Allen Flanigan and Justin Powell are two major threats for Auburn offensively.
Flanigan averages 13.9 points per game along with 5.4 rebounds. He shoots 45% from the floor and has taken the most free throws on the team this season with 104. He’s made 82 of those free throws.
Powell averages 11.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He is also Auburn's most lethal three-point shooter as he shoots 44% from behind the three-point line.
Auburn does turn the ball over an average of 16.5 times per game. Tennessee should be able to take advantage of the Tigers’ sloppy play if it can lock in on the defensive end.
Defensively, Auburn gives up an average of 77 points per game while letting its opponents shoot 44% from the field and 32% from behind the three-point line
Opponents make an average of 14 free throws per game but shoot just 68% from the free-throw line.
Auburn uses its athleticism to create six steals and six blocks per game while forcing opponents into an average of 14.2 turnovers per game.
Tennessee will be facing an opponent that wants to space the court and run.
The Vols can play a fast-paced game but they need to take care of the basketball and not play sloppy when they do play with pace.
“Turnovers affect us and we gotta make sure we take care of the ball, ” Tennessee guard Victor Bailey Jr. said. “Coach talks about taking care of the ball and it's big for us because we have guys that can score. We can’t get shots if we turn the ball over. It will change, we have young guys so we’re still trying to figure it out but we’ll start taking care of the ball.”
Bailey has been one of Tennessee’s best players the past three games, he’s averaged 22 points and 61.5% shooting from behind the three-point line.
Tennessee needs Bailey to continue to be a threat shooting the ball so Tennessee can space the court, create more driving lanes and play a more fluid game.
“Offensively, I still think he has to keep going downhill with the ball, ”Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of Bailey. “He had a chance tonight, a couple of times he just stopped himself on a few curl actions when he could have kept going with it. I think he, for the most part, is letting it come to him and not trying to do too much, letting other guys play and create some opportunities where he can spot up to shoot it.”
Against a smaller team like Auburn that likes to play fast, it would behoove Tennessee to commit to its small-ball lineup with Josiah Jordan James at power forward and Yves Pons at the center. Bailey along with Jordan Springer and Keon Johnson would play the guard positions.
Tennessee has been able to play a much more fluid and fast-paced offensive game with its small-ball lineup. This lineup also gives Tennessee the chance to have its best five players on the court together.
Tennessee went to this lineup down the stretch against Vanderbilt and it’ll be interesting to see if Tennessee rolls it out as the starting five for the noon ET tip off on ESPN at Auburn Arena Saturday.