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Cincinnati Basketball Opponent Preview: Tennessee

Tennessee comes into Cincinnati on Wednesday with a 7-2 record, coming off a loss to Memphis.

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NCAA Basketball: Chattanooga at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday December 18th, Tennessee Volunteers come to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats.

How to Watch

This game will be on ESPN2 at 7pm ET. You can also watch from Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati by purchasing tickets here.

2018-19 Recap

Tennessee went 31-6 last season. They lost the SEC Championship Game to eventual Final Four team Auburn and advanced to the Sweet 16, before losing a classic to Purdue in overtime.

Tennessee spent 4 straight weeks ranked #1 in the AP poll (1/23 through 2/16)

The Vols lost their top three players from that team - Grant Williams (18.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Admiral Schofield (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), and Jordan Bone (13.5 ppg, 5.8 apg).

History vs Opponent

Cincinnati is 5-1 all-time vs Tennessee. This is their first meeting since Cincinnati won 79-58 at home in 1993. Cincy also won at Tennessee the year prior. The other four games took place between 1952-1956.

Tennessee is coached by Rick Barnes. Barnes is 0-1 against Cincinnati, losing in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Barnes coached Texas from 1998-2015, winning 69% of his games. He has been the coach of Tennessee since 2016 and is 95-52 overall.

2019-20 season-to-date

Tennessee is 7-2, coming off a loss to fellow AAC foe, Memphis on Saturday. Their other loss came last month to Florida State in the Emerald Coast Classic.

Notable wins include beating VCU in that same tournament, when the Rams were ranked #20 and beating Washington Huskies on a neutral site, ironically when they too were ranked #20.

Vols are scoring 68.6 ppg, while allowing just 55.3 ppg, which ranks 5th in the country.

NET rankings are the newest metric in college basketball (originated last year) and the first one of 2019-20 was released on Monday. Tennessee comes in at #25. For comparison, Cincinnati is 110.

Tennessee is #20 in Kenpom’s latest rankings, while Cincinnati is #63.

Players to watch

Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner are the top two returning players from last year’s Tennessee team.

Lamonte Turner started just 19 games last year, averaging 10.9 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.9 rpg, while playing 30 minutes per game.

Jordan Bowden played 27 minutes per game, averaging similar numbers to Turner - 10.6 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.7 rpg, and 1.3 steals per game.

Through 9 games this season, Bowden is averaging 12.9 ppg, while shooting 40% from the field. Turner is averaging 12.8 ppg, but shooting just 28.7% from the field. Turner also leads the team in assists and steals, averaging 7.1 apg and 2.0 spg.

Freshman Josiah Jordan-James is another guy to watch. He is averaging 7.0 ppg and leading the team with 6.6 rpg, while playing 30 minutes per game.

Q&A with Rocky Top Talk

We spoke to Terry Lambert, who covers Tennessee basketball for Rocky Top Talk at SB Nation, to get his thoughts on a few topics.

How has Tennessee overcome the losses of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone to get off to a hot start in 2019?

To be honest, it’s been bumpy, but we’ve probably been a little spoiled over the last few years too. They lost option 1, 2 and 3 offensively, so it’s been a bit of an experiment so far to see who would step up. As good as Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden have been for Tennessee as role players through the years, they haven’t shown the ability to be consistent big time scorers for Tennessee just yet. That’s the main reason why Memphis beat Tennessee on Saturday. You can’t shoot 25 percent from the field an expect to beat anyone. Eventually, five-star guard Josiah James may grow into a consistent scoring role, but for now, Tennessee is pretty much reliant on whether or not Bowden’s shot is falling. If he’s on, Tennessee is tough to beat. If he’s off, Tennessee will struggle to score.

Based on UT’s strengths, what should Cincinnati be worried about on Wednesday night?

Tennessee’s strength without question is defense. They have veteran guards that can lock in and play great man defense, while Yves Pons is a really unique, 6-6 rim protector who can fly around and make things happen. That defense has kept them in games that they should have been run out of the gym in. Offensively, when things are right, Turner is an outstanding facilitator. Bowden is a guy that can drop 30 points. Yves Pons is streaky, but when he has the offense going, Tennessee is a different team. This is a strange team to project right now, just because you can see the ingredients there. But here lately, you haven’t seen them all come together.

What must Cincinnati do to pull off the upset?

Force someone not named Turner or Bowden to beat you. That’s what Memphis did — and Tennessee helped them out by shooting 15 percent from three. But that’s the blueprint. Make the ball land in John Fulkerson, Josiah James, Yves Pons, Davonte Gaines, Drew Pember or Olivier Nkamhoua’s hands. Tennessee hasn’t proven that they have a consistent third or fourth option to score the ball just yet. Until they do, defenses can just key in on those two veteran guards for the time being.