Game of the Night: No. 14 Tennessee at Memphis (4:00 PM, ESPN2)
New Year’s Eve is a special day for everyone – but it is especially exciting in college basketball this season. There are a plethora of marquee games, including No. 15 Ohio State at No. 23 Wisconsin, St. John’s at No. 13 Georgetown and Oklahoma at Gonzaga. However, the most interesting match-up of the day will be No. 14 Tennessee at Memphis. Although Memphis is down this season, the game has become a solid rivalry in recent years, and both teams could use the win. Tennessee has lost two games this season, a one-point defeat to Purdue and a surprising 22-point loss at USC. The Volunteers don’t have any impressive wins on their resume yet, however. On the other hand, Memphis has also lost two games – by a combined three points, at Kansas and at Massachusetts. The Tigers don’t have a marquee – or remotely impressive – win on their resume, either.
Tennessee has plenty of talent on its roster, as the Volunteers can go 10 or 11 deep without too much of a dropoff from the starters to the reserves. Tyler Smith is one of the most versatile forwards in the country, although his numbers are down across the board this season. Wayne Chism is an inside-outside option down low, although he tends to stay on the perimeter too much. Scotty Hopson, Cameron Tatum and J.P. Prince are all solid wing scorers, while Brian Williams is a bruiser down low. The problem for Bruce Pearl this season has been the point guard position. Bobby Maze is talented, but has not shot the ball well, and makes careless mistakes with the ball. Melvin Goins is another player who has struggled to shoot the three, and turns it over too much. They will have to figure it out in order to make a run in March.
Memphis lost a ton from last season, but the Tigers still look like they will contend in Conference-USA. Duke transfer Elliot Williams is averaging better than 20 points per game, and is capable of carrying the Tigers offensively. Doneal Mack and Wesley Witherspoon are both shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range and are averaging double-figures in scoring. Roburt Sallie is another player who can fill it up from distance, while Willie Kemp has handled the point fairly well. Up front, Will Coleman and Pierre Henderson-Niles have split the minutes down low. Coleman has been more effective offensively, defensively and on the glass, while Henderson-Niles has averaged 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the past two games.
Both of these teams are perimeter-oriented groups that like to get up-and-down the floor and shoot three-pointers. Unfortunately for them, neither team is all that consistent knocking down outside shots. The key in this game will be which team can take care of the ball better. Both teams don’t turn the ball over that often, but both teams also love forcing turnovers with their pressure defense. As a result, I think the difference will be the ineffectiveness of Tennessee’s point guards; Memphis’ Elliot Williams will come through down the stretch.
Prediction: Memphis 77, Tennessee 73