NCAA Basketball

Unbeaten streaks on line for No. 7 Tennessee, No. 12 Missouri

The No. 12 Missouri Tigers will try to carry their surprising non-conference success into Southeastern Conference play when they host No. 7 Tennessee on Wednesday night.

The Tigers (6-0) are enjoying their first national ranking since 2014. Earlier this season they scored upsets over Oregon on a neutral site and against Illinois at home.

Missouri was picked 10th in the SEC preseason poll while Tennessee (6-0) was deemed the league favorite. This game at Mizzou Arena will be the conference opener for both schools.

The Vols are coming off of an 80-60 victory over South Carolina Upstate last Wednesday. They were forced into a slower offensive pace after scoring 205 points in their two previous victories over Tennessee Tech and St. Joseph's.

"I thought Upstate had a terrific game plan," Vols coach Rick Barnes said. "They were going to shorten the game. This was probably as good of a game as we could have to get ready going into conference play because it's different from what we have played. It shows that as much as we wanted to play at a faster pace ... the other team had something to do with that."

Missouri needed Jeremiah Tilmon's three-point play with one second left to rally past Bradley 54-53 last Tuesday. The Braves kept the Tigers from pushing the tempo and they clogged Missouri's half-court offense.

"That was a tough game, we had a 10-day layoff," Tigers guard Xavier Pinson said. "But I feel like for us to be tested like that, while still trying to get our legs back under us, trying to get back in the flow of our normal pace. I feel like they prepared us really well to go right to conference games."

Tennessee entered the week allowing just 52.7 points per game, which tied for first in NCAA Division I scoring defense. The Vols ranked fifth with a positive scoring margin of 28 points per game.

They are catching Missouri coming off its worst offensive performance of the season. Pinson hit 3-of-7 shots from 3-point range, but the rest of the team went 0-for-14.

Overall, the Tigers are converting just 28.4 percent of their three-pointers.

"I think we're a better 3-point shooting team than what we've shown, but I think you can't settle for them," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. "It looks easy, but you got to do the tough stuff, you got to drive the ball, get in there and get good 3s. Those things you have to consistently do, and you have to understand who you are -- if you're a spot shooter, be that."

Missouri has a guard-driven offense led by Pinson (14.3 points per game), Mark Smith (13.8) and Dru Smith (13.2).

The Vols have four players averaging double-figure point totals this season: Victory Bailey Jr. (13.2), John Fulkerson (11.8), Jaden Springer (11.5) and Josiah-Jordan James (10.0).

Yves Pons is averaging 7.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Barnes believes he can improve on both categories in SEC play.

"Consistency is the big word for all of our team," Barnes said. "I think Yves has to be more consistent at rebounding. I think he has to get to the foul line more. I do not care if he makes a 3-point shot all year. I know that when he takes his shot that he works on, he is a high-percentage 3-point shooter. But the fact is, he has not rebounded the ball the way he is capable of night-in and night-out. I think that he should average double-digit rebounds."

--Field Level Media

Updated December 28, 2020

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