Tennessee travels to College Station, Texas Saturday for an SEC showdown with Texas A&M that will pit two of the conference's best defensive teams against one another.
Texas A&M (6-3, 1-2 SEC) ranks third in the conference giving up just 65 points per game while the No. 9 Vols (9-1, 2-1 SEC) ranks first in the conference giving up just 57.1 points per game.
Despite ranking as the best in the conference and tied for the best in the nation according to Ken Pom’s adjusted defensive rankings, Tennessee has struggled in its last two times out against three-point dominant Alabama and Arkansas.
Both Alabama and Arkansas reached 70 points against UT, the first teams to do so this season, while hitting eight or more three-pointers.
“It all starts with guarding the ball,” Tennessee associate head coach Michael Schwartz said. “We haven't done a great job over the last two games guarding the ball. Give them credit. They were able to get to the paint. As you really start to be concerned with that 3-point line, what happens is that the defense starts spreading out. Our defense, as much as we want to pressure the ball and do that, is predicated on guys helping and five guys moving as one. What's happened over the last two games, as we've broken it down on film and talked to the guys about it, is we've gotten into this 'You're on an island' mentality. You guard your guy. I've got to make sure my guy doesn't do what he's supposed to do. We stopped helping each other and moving cohesively a little bit over the last two games.”
Both Tennessee and Texas A&M play slower styles of basketball, ranking in the bottom four in the SEC in pace. The Aggies also shoot a putride 29% from three-point range so Tennessee should have a great chance to rebound against an offense that won't be able to stretch them out and drive the ball like the Crimson Tide and Razorbacks were able to do.
Offensively, Texas A&M is led by sophomore forward Emanuel Miller. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is leading the Aggies with 18.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and is coming off a 28 point performance in Wednesday’s loss at South Carolina.
Miller will have his hands full with the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year likely to start on the Ontario native.
"It's going to be a game that's going to be determined in the paint,” Schwartz said of the matchup with Texas A&M. “That's probably the best way to say it. They want to keep teams out of the paint and they're a very good rebounding team. We want to get to the paint and we want to be a great rebounding team. If you look at last year's game, they shot just over 30 percent from the floor and they beat us 63-58 and we shot in the 40 percent range, maybe in the mid-40's. But, it all came down to one thing. They had 23 offensive rebounds that night. It's going to be an extremely physical and hard-nosed game. They're a great and well-coached team that puts a huge emphasis on playing hard, playing physical, rebounding and they absolutely came into our building last year and got the better of us in all of those areas and that's why they won."
While Texas A&M dominating the glass was the key to last season’s game, the Aggies haven’t done that at a high level this season, ranking last in the conference with 9.8 offensive boards per game.
Both teams want to play inside out and for Tennessee that could start with senior John Fulkerson. Fulkerson got off to a slow start to the season, but is coming off his best game of the year, a 16 point, eight rebound performance against Arkansas.
Senior guard Quenton Jackson is the only other Aggie averaging in double figures this season. The Los Angeles native is averaging 12.1 points and three rebounds a game. Jackson is also Texas A&M’s most reliable shooter, making 45% of his three-point attempts this season.
Guards Savion Flagg and Andre Gordon round out Texas A&M’s primary offensive options. The duo are atop the Aggies’ assists list with Flagg averaging 2.9 per game and Gordon averaging 2.8.
Gordon is scoring 8.9 points per game on 43% shooting while Flagg is averaging 7.4 points on 33% shootings.
Texas A&M is also a poor ball handling team, turning the ball over the second most in the SEC (17 per game).
Tipoff from Reed Arena is set for 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2.