Like the rest of the country, Tennessee basketball has seen its fair share of run-ins with COVID-19.
Vols head coach Rick Barnes announced Monday that John Fulkerson and Kennedy Chandler, who had missed Tennessee’s SEC opener against top-ranked Alabama following a pair of positive tests, would be available against Ole Miss Wednesday evening.
Fulkerson and Chandler’s importance to Tennessee basketball is hard to fully encapsulate. The two are combining for close to 24 points per game for Tennessee and were integral in the Vols' win at home over No. 6 Arizona.
But it was all systems go for Tennessee against the Crimson Tide without its first and third top scorers. The frontcourt trio of Olivier Nkamhoua, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Uros Plavsic combined for 29 points down low.
The Vols led for a majority of the game but dropped their third straight to Alabama after squandering a lead when fouls started to add up late.
“We really do have a mentality that with what we have, we're going to go play and we believe it today,” Barnes said Monday following the 73-68 loss. “With the group we have, we could have won the game. Once we found out those guys weren't going to play, we didn't make a big deal about it.”
While Tennessee was down some major starters against Alabama, it may be Mississippi playing shorthanded at Thompson Boling-Arena for the Vols’ home opener.
Rebels head coach Kermit Davis announced Tuesday that two players on the Ole Miss roster had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Despite this, Davis is confident his squad will make the trip and compete Wednesday evening.
“(Coronavirus has) run through our team a bit,” Davis said. “If we have seven scholarship players, we’re going to go to Tennessee and play our tail off and do everything we can do to play that game.”
The misfortunes don’t stop there for the Rebels. Leading scorer Jarkel Joiner was listed by Ole Miss as questionable against the Vols with a lower back injury sustained in practice.
On top of Joiner’s questionable status, Ole Miss will also be without 6-foot-8 power forward Robert Allen, who was declared out for the season following a knee injury against Memphis in early December.
Assuming the two positive tests within the Ole Miss program are scholarship athletes, though not confirmed, that leaves as low as eight players that could potentially suit up Wednesday night in Knoxville.
At full strength, Ole Miss has struggled to put it lightly. The Rebels are 8-4 with recent losses to Western Kentucky and Samford but boast a top-50 defense according to Kenpom.
The Rebels have yet to face a defense as stout as Tennessee yet this season, a test that becomes stronger shorthanded.
The Vols have the No. 2 defense in the nation according Kenpom and have yet to allow a team to score over 75 through 12 games.
Tennessee has played well at home as of late. The Vols are riding an eight-game winning streak in Knoxville and boast the fifth highest total attendance average for the 2021-22 season.
Tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena is slated for 7 p.m. EST.