Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Mississippi State

Back during the 2014 and/or 2015 coaching searches, I remember there being a fairly strong desire from online Tennessee fans for Ben Howland. After all, Howland had just been let go by UCLA after the 2013 season, and it isn’t every day there’s a coach on the market with three consecutive Final Four appearances, especially when they’re as recent as 2006-2008. (At the time, this was recent.) Perhaps what we didn’t know – or chose to not see – was that after the final of those Final Four appearances, the UCLA program cratered. They went 117th-52nd-58th-46th on KenPom over his final four seasons, didn’t escape the second round, and were instantly better under new HC Steve Alford.

Howland got scooped up by Mississippi State, who needed literally anything they could get after the Rick Ray error. Again, at the time, it felt like the Bulldogs were seen as making the better hire between them and Tennessee heading into the 2015-16 season. Over 5.5 seasons, Mississippi State has finished inside the KenPom top 40 once, has made one NCAA Tournament, and bombed out to Liberty in the first round. Rick Barnes, whether you like him or not, is headed towards posting his third top-20 finish at Tennessee and has the third-best defense in the country. Funny how these things work out.

Game Information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Mississippi State (9-7, 4-4).
  • THE TIME: 7 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS (by request): Tom Hart PBP, Jimmy Dykes color.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -9.5.

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NEXT PAGE: Jimmy, if you’re reading this, the world needs to know who drew your Conor McGregor tattoos

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Florida (#1)

To be frank, it’s a little difficult to write these previews, knowing that in a normal world, Florida likely would’ve had Keyontae Johnson available. Before we even really get started here, a reminder for Vol fans to be praying for his recovery and for the best possible outcome.

Alright, back to the rivalry. Tennessee has defeated Florida on four straight occasions. Mike White, who was about $250K in assistant money away from being Tennessee’s head coach, is 1-5 against Rick Barnes. And I have to say, this is one of my favorite sites on the Internet at the moment.

Here are the things to know about these Florida Gators:

  • Based on the roster they had heading into the season, Bart Torvik’s site had them ranked 10th. I know, I know: sounds ridiculous. But Bart’s site also nailed how good Texas would be when a lot of others doubted.
  • That said, the Gators are now ranked 37th and freefalling on the same site.
  • The Gators are as close to a schizophrenic team as Tennessee can draw this year. They’ve got five 90+ Game Scores on Torvik’s site (that’s very good)…and five performances of 72 or worse (that’s not good).
  • The only player who was on Tennessee’s roster the last time Tennessee lost to Florida (2017) is John Fulkerson.
  • Mike White is 1-5 against Rick Barnes and 56-34 against all other SEC competition.

Here is a game information section to relieve pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: Florida (6-4, 3-3).
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN. Dick Vitale is on the call, just FYI.
  • THE TIME: 7 PM ET.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -7.

To move ahead to a certain section, click below.

NEXT PAGE: If you ask politely I’ll give you my thoughts on Tennessee football. Just kiddin’

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Vanderbilt (#1)

Could this be the first of multiple games? Could it be the only time Tennessee actually plays Vanderbilt? Could they play Vanderbilt four times while not playing South Carolina once? Pretty much anything is on the table in the silliest season in college basketball history.

As a heads-up, this is the exact preview I wrote for Tuesday’s fixture, which was cancelled about eight hours before tip-off, much to the chagrin of the person writing this post. All I’ve changed is the final score prediction, given that the game is now in Knoxville and not Nashville. I am begging both of these schools to simply ensure the game gets completed, lest I lose my mind.

A quick note here as well: Vanderbilt hasn’t really announced who in the program tested positive or if anyone has to sit out for contact tracing purposes, so if a player is mentioned in this post and they don’t play, that’s probably why.

Game information section:

  • THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-3).
  • THE TIME: 6 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -18.

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NEXT PAGE: Please play the game

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Texas A&M

Texas A&M is a basketball team that plays their games in College Station, TX. They are coached by Buzz Williams. Through 1.3 seasons at Texas A&M, his two teams have ranked 131st and 98th in KenPom. Please let this be an easy one.

Five things worth knowing:

  • Texas A&M is 6-0 at home…
  • …and 0-3 on the road.
  • The Aggies are 1-3 against KenPom Top 100 teams, with the one win being a two-point win over Auburn. The three losses were to #81 TCU (73-55), #33 LSU (77-54), and #62 South Carolina (78-54).
  • Emanuel Miller is the only Texas A&M player in their top six minute-getters to have an Offensive Rating above 100 (essentially, CBB’s Mendoza Line). His is 119.9.
  • The Aggies are, amazingly, one of three teams in America to have a sub-300 offensive Turnover Percentage and a top-25 defensive Turnover Percentage.

Here’s a game information section:

  • THE OPPONENT: Texas A&M (6-3, 1-2).
  • THE TIME: 2 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN2.
  • THE LOCATION: College Station, TX.
  • THE SPREAD: Has not yet been posted at the time of writing.

To click ahead to a certain section, use the guide below:

NEXT PAGE: You have to admit that College Station is a good name for a town with a college stationed there

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Arkansas

Hogs hogs hogs hogs hogs. Hogs!

As disappointing as Tennessee’s Saturday was, you could make the case Arkansas had an equally disappointing outing. The Razorbacks entered their second SEC game 9-0, having beaten Auburn by double-digits on the road earlier in the week, and drew a Missouri team Tennessee had just demolished days prior. It was all setting up for Arkansas to make their case as, at worst, the second-best team in the SEC.

Then the game started, Arkansas could barely buy a bucket despite being dominant in terms of shot volume, Missouri hit just enough shots to stay in front the whole way, and a golden opportunity for Eric Musselman’s team was blown, 81-68. Now, the SEC race is as muddled as it can possibly be (as long as you still assume Tennessee is the favorite, of course). As many as five teams have a legitimate shot to be the 2 seed, which means a team like Arkansas will probably finish anywhere from 2nd to 6th in the conference and it’ll be entirely dependent on how many close games they can steal. I’m excited to see how that goes; hopefully Tennessee stays above the fray.

Five things to know about the Arkansas Razorbacks:

  • They have played just one KenPom Top 50 team; that was Missouri, who they lost to.
  • Like last year, Arkansas ran roughshod over a very weak non-conference schedule, with the toughest opponent either being #102 North Texas (69-54 win) or #113 Abilene Christian (85-72 win). There’s nothing wrong with demolishing bad teams, of course, and that’s generally a good sign. But considering Arkansas did the same thing last year only to crap out in SEC play, it’s worth holding out.
  • Arkansas only has one player in their rotation who was on the team last year: Desi Sills.
  • Four freshmen play for Arkansas, as do five transfers. Literally the rotation is 90% new, which both speaks volumes about the fact Musselman has them in the KenPom Top 40 and also makes me wonder if that’s a sustainable system at all. (He did something very similar with his final two teams at Nevada.)
  • Arkansas and Tennessee are two of just three teams in America to rank in the top 25 in both offensive TO% and OREB%. (Iowa is the third.)

Below is a game information section, which should relieve some pressure from various beat writers’ mentions:

  • THE OPPONENT: Arkansas (9-1, 1-1).
  • THE TIME: 7 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN2.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -7.

Click below to skip ahead to a certain section:

NEXT PAGE: (withholding comment about famous Arkansas alumni)

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Alabama

Look: this university gets literally anything and everything it wants in the football world. Isn’t it nice that they aren’t also elite at basketball?

Five things you need to know:

  • Alabama’s 0-2 against Tier 1 opponents, but 3-1 against Tier 2 opposition.
  • When Alabama tops 1 PPP offensively, they’re 6-0. When they don’t? 0-3.
  • Nate Oats is entering his second year as head coach at Alabama after a nice four-year run as Buffalo’s head coach, which followed an 11-year run as Romulus High School (Michigan)’s head coach.
  • Oats owns three of Buffalo’s four NCAAT appearances, along with their only two NCAAT wins.
  • They are Alabama, and Tennessee is Tennessee.

The below game information section is used to alleviate pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: Alabama (6-3).
  • THE TIME: 6 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN2! Finally!
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -9.5.

If you’d like to click ahead to a certain section, use this menu:

NEXT PAGE: Does Alabama basketball have extremely online fans in the same way Alabama football does?

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Tennessee Tech

There’s only so much I can say about a team Tennessee has played 25 times and beaten 24, so I’ll leave it relatively short. If you are somehow unfamiliar with them, the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles play basketball in Cookeville, TN. They haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1963, but they’ve won their conference’s regular season title as recently as 2005. When they do make it back to the NCAA Tournament, it’ll be a great day for basketball in this state.

For…reasons, they hired John Pelphrey, who is 9-29 in his first 38 games as head coach. Cookeville is home to a Popeyes just off of exit 287, which is actually the Popeyes where I first experienced the chicken sandwich. Thank you to my friend Nathan for capturing the moment; the photo is available upon request.

The below section is to alleviate pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: Tennessee Tech (0-7).
  • THE TIME: 7:00 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network Plus, online-only.
  • IF YOU HAVE A CABLE SUBSCRIPTION: You can either go to espn.com/watch and enter in your cable info that way by following the instructions, or if you have a Roku/Amazon Fire thing, go to the ESPN app and do the same thing.
  • IF YOU DON’T: Uh…call someone you know that does? Or listen to Bob and Bert?
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -28.5.

If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain section, click below:

NEXT PAGE: Unlike one of my favorite Al Green songs, nothing about this offense is Simply Beautiful

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Appalachian State

Appalachian State, as you may have heard, is a school in Boone, North Carolina. They are best known for dropping the match into the batch of lighter fluid that was Lloyd Carr-era Michigan football and causing my dad to have chest pains for the better part of the last two decades. Other than that…

Just kiddin’. The Mountaineers have made the NCAA Tournament once in the 64/68-team era (2000, lost to Ohio State 87-61). They probably won’t do it this year, but their current coach, Dustin Kerns, is the first head coach to make them respectable and solid in over a decade. Pretty good, if you ask me. Finally, on December 15, Tennessee gets to play an opponent that isn’t in the KenPom top 75.

Game information

This is a short section that will hopefully alleviate pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: Appalachian State (4-1).
  • THE TIME: 7:00 PM Eastern.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -18.5.

If you’d like to jump ahead to a different part of the preview, use the provided menu:

NEXT PAGE: BasketBoone

Show Me My Opponent: Alabama (#2)

Written Tuesday evening:

SEC Tournament season, baby! Are you feeling the fire? Are you feeling the excitement? Do you know that It Just Means More™? With zero teams in KenPom’s top 25 and about four teams you can confidently say are making the NCAA Tournament, I can’t imagine not being full-throated ecstatic over the re-arrival of this thing. SEC basketball is here! 4.5 whole days of it! Man, I’m almost tearing up at the thought of the classics to come. Get ready, y’all.

In all seriousness, I’ve talked about this for a while, but this is the worst SEC in at least seven years and possibly further back. The best team in the pack is pretty clearly Kentucky, a team almost perfectly suited for the 1994 NCAA Tournament, and the teams behind it are all varying shades of gray. 2 seed Auburn spent the first three months of the season exhausting its entire supply of luck before crash-landing over the final three weeks. (Still beat Tennessee twice, of course.) 3 seed LSU had the best offense in conference play and paired it with the 12th-best defense. Mississippi State, South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M…other than Florida, who amazingly will be in the Field of 68, will you remember anything these teams did in a week?

Anyway, that leads us to our 8 and 9 seeds: Tennessee and Alabama. They’ve already played once, with Tennessee completing a wild and objectively very funny double-digit road comeback to beat the Tide. This Tennessee team is young and hyper-flawed, and yet they’re capable of that. Alabama, likewise, is a very young team that can be as fun as anyone in America some nights, yet simply opted to not participate in the NCAA Tournament after it arrived on the horizon as a serious possibility in late January.

One season is going to end earlier than the fanbase involved would have hoped or really imagined two months back. The other season will be extended until at least Friday, where the most likely outcome is a defeat at the hands of a team that hasn’t cracked the KenPom top 20 in nearly two months. Next year will be quite a bit better for both schools.

Written Thursday morning:

Are we sure we should be playing this game?

NEXT PAGE: Wash your hands

Show Me My Opponent: Auburn (#2)

Here we are: after four-plus months of hot basketball action, we have finally arrived at the very end. Here is how I thought it would go:

And here is how all of those ended up going:

  • Record prediction: most likely 18-13, 10-8 SEC play
  • Team MVP: All-SEC John Fulkerson
  • NCAAT? check back next Sunday
  • Record vs. Florida/Kentucky: 2-1!
  • Pick 2 Click: I think we have to go Fulk here, yeah? Maybe Yves Pons?
  • Most Important Non-SEC Game: It actually ended up being the home Memphis game, but not for the reasons anyone expected. This is now a Quadrant 2 loss because Memphis has politely decided to suck in the 2020 half of 2019-20. The most important win is…probably still Washington? Somehow? Either that or VCU.

So those projections ended up going about 2.5 for 6, I’ll say. We’ll monitor the ones still in play. It’s quite amazing that we’re here even wanting to look at preseason projections, honestly. Seven days ago, when I posted the preview of the Florida game, I included the Press F to Pay Respects meme as the featured image on the article. (I legitimately cannot thank the boomer that asked me “what exactly am I looking at? Do I have to press F to access the article?” You brought so much joy to my Friday.) I, along with most others, figured the season was basically over. This team might beat Florida, it might beat a rapidly declining star in Auburn, but it wasn’t going to win at Rupp.

Until it did.

Now, here we are, entertain us, these Tennessee Volunteers can get themselves back onto the NCAA bubble – not even the NIT one, y’all – with a win over an Auburn team that was 22-2 three weeks ago. What a world.

NEXT PAGE: I can’t link it because my grandparents read these but I very nearly made the @dril “Holy Mackerel” tweet the featured image.