Tennessee Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl is hosting a semi-formal gathering at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday night when cross-state rival Memphis comes to Knoxville. In terms of attire and details, he has put out very specific instructions for members of his NCAA basketball team who plan to attend: Black tie optional-Defense mandatory! The NCAA Basketball odds opened with the Volunteers -6 favorties and the total at 147.5.
The Volunteers, losers of four of their past six games (0-5 ATS in that span), have been given an ultimatum by their coach — if you want to play, you’ve got to bring the D. Last Friday Tennessee dropped a 91-78 home game to the College of Charleston in a contest in which it allowed the Cougars to shoot a staggering 57% from the floor, and 56% from beyond the arc. Afterwards Pearl reflected on his team’s inadequacies: “With each game the drop-off became greater and greater as far as the slippage of how to defend as a team. It came tumbling and crashing down against Charleston as we got terribly exposed.” In seven of the 12 halves of basketball Tennessee has played since defeating Pittsburgh, it has allowed the opponent to shoot better than 50% from the floor. Pearl says whoever gets the minutes on the floor, it won’t be about fatigue, but rather who needs to be out there to supply the defense. Junior Scotty Hopson leads Tennessee in scoring at 16.4 PPG, while freshman Tobias Harris is posting 15.0 PPG.
Averaging 80.8 PPG (17th in Division I), the Memphis Tigers should pose a good challenge to a Volunteers team that hopes to display a renewed emphasis on defense. Averaging 17.1 assists per game (20th in Division I) the Tigers know how to share the ball, and tallying 45.6% from the floor, they’ve shot the ball pretty well for a young team. Memphis only has one senior and seven freshmen, and has not been without its moments of inconsistency, despite its 11-2 record. For example, second leading scorer Wesley Witherspoon in his three games back from injury has scored 3, 28 and 3 points respectively. Fortunately just as Witherspoon has struggled, freshman Will Barton, the team’s leading scorer, during those same three games has averaged 17.3 PPG on 45% shooting. Another freshman, Joe Jackson, is posting 10.8 PPG and leads the team in assists with 4.3 APG.
How it turned out last time around
Last season Tennessee defeated Memphis in FedEx Forum 66-59, and the Vols did it with a defensive effort that has been lacking the past six games this year. Despite shooting just under 36% as a team, Tennessee outrebounded Memphis 42-26, while forcing the Tigers into 16 turnovers. If they muster a sustained effort on both ends of the floor Wednesday night at home, they have a chance of rattling the young Tigers, while satisfying the fiery Pearl.
The betting stats
Since 1997, the Volunteers hold a 7-3 SU and 6-4 ATS advantage in their matchups with Memphis. These two FoxSheets trends like Tennessee to win and cover on Wednesday.
MEMPHIS is 2-15 ATS (11.8%, -14.5 Units) after having won 6 or 7 of their last 8 games over the last 2 seasons. The average score was MEMPHIS 73.4, OPPONENT 70.0 – (Rating = 4*).
Play On – Home favorites of 3.5 to 9.5 points (TENNESSEE) – team from a major division I-A conference against a team from a second tier conference. (244-164 since 1997.) (59.8%, +63.6 units. Rating = 2*).
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