No. 25 Tennessee (11-6, 8-6 SEC) is on the road at Vanderbilt (6-12, 2-10 SEC) for an SEC matchup.
Tennessee were favorites to win the SEC during the preseason, but have fallen to the point of not even being in contention for the SEC crown. For now, the Volunteers will have to focus on improving both their team and their NCAA tournament seeding.
Tennessee Without James
One major factor in Tennessee’s fall from grace is the wrist injury of Josiah-Jordan James, who hasn’t played since a Feb. 13 78-65 loss to LSU. James leads the Volunteers in rebounds, averaging 3.0 boards a game. His athleticism and versatility is a big part of the Tennessee arsenal, and his absence has been noticed with the lack of production on both sides of the ball.
While the Volunteers did take a win from South Carolina without James, the 70-55 loss to Kentucky a few days later was arguably the worst loss Tennessee suffered in SEC play this season. The loss is especially note-worthy due to the 82-71 win over Kentucky on just Feb. 6, where James grabbed 10 rebounds for his team.
While Vanderbilt’s record is admittedly poor, the numbers don’t paint a perfect picture: of the past five games, the four losses were by a combined 17 points. The Commodores offense has proven that it can score even in tough SEC matchups, but the defense is simply unable to keep up. Vanderbilt’s offense has scored over 70 points in the five game stretch, with a notable 78 points in the 82-78 loss to No. 8 Alabama. Even with the combined 42 points from Scotty Pippen Jr. and Maxwell Evans, the Vandy defense was unable to hold back the Crimson Tide as the Vols fell short.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes also had praise for the Commodores, noting their growth during SEC play, especially since the last Tennessee-Vanderbilt matchup.
While even without James, the Volunteers are still looking like the better team on the court. The all-time series is 125-75 favoring Tennessee, with the last nine of 10 games going toward the Vols as well. While the Commodores have the potential to score big, the Vanderbilt defense will have to play better in all aspects in order to take the win at home in Nashville.