Missouri (22-8, 11-6 SEC) at Tennessee (18-11, 10-7 SEC)
Saturday, March 9, 4:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Missouri leads, 4-2
Probable Missouri Starters
C-Alex Oriakhi, 6-9, 255, SR, (11.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, .611 FG%)
F-Laurence Bowers, 6-8, 227, SR, (14.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, .554 FG%)
G-Jabari Brown, 6-5, 205, SO, (14.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .376 3FG%)
G-Keion Bell, 6-4, 200, JR, (11.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .541 FG%)
G-Phil Pressey, 5-11, 175, JR, (11.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 7.1 apg)
Key Reserves: Earnest Ross (6-5, 222, JR); Tony Criswell (6-9, 240, JR); Negus Webster-Chan (6-7, 200, FR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (12.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, .531 FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, .478 FG%)
G-Armani Moore, 6-5, 203, FR, (2.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-5, 178, JR, (16.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, .373 3PT%)
G-Trae Golden, 6-2, 205, JR, (12.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.1 apg)
Key Reserves: Skylar McBee (6-3, 195, SR); Kenny Hall (6-9, 230, SR); Yemi Makanjuola (6-9, 250, SO); Quinton Chievous (6-5, 200, FR)
The opening tip
Tennessee’s journey to the NCAA tournament has one more significant hurdle coming on Saturday afternoon when a talented Missouri team comes to Knoxville for the regular-season finale.
It’s Senior Night and the Vols will be honoring four seniors – Kenny Hall, Skylar McBee, Dwight Miller and Rob Murphy. None are in UT’s traditional starting lineup, but Hall and McBee are the top reserves. Miller has missed the season with a bad knee and Murphy has seen action in two games this season. Forward Jeronne Maymon is also a senior, but he is expected to return in 2013-14 after taking a medical redshirt this year due to a knee injury.
The pregame ceremony will be focused on those four, but there would be no better way to send them off than finishing off the year with a win over the Tigers in the first SEC matchup between the two schools.
Missouri, a team currently tied for second in the SEC, is riding a three-game winning streak, but the Tigers have struggled on the road this season – posting a 2-7 record away from home. Tennessee, a team with a 12-3 mark at Thompson-Boling Arena, will hope that trend continues on Saturday.
Missouri is one of the more balanced teams the Vols will face this season. Point guard Phil Pressey was the preseason SEC Player of the Year and can hurt teams with his passing or scoring.
Inside, the Tigers are second nationally in rebounding (41.4 per game). The frontline of Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi will challenge Tennessee’s four-guard lineup. It’ll be interesting to see if Missouri adjusts by going smaller or if Tennessee’s is forced to use Kenny Hall and Jarnell Stokes on the floor at the same time to counter Missouri’s size.
For the Vols, it’s been about getting the right combination of performances from Stokes, Trae Golden and Jordan McRae. Golden got back on track in an 82-75 win at Auburn – scoring 21 points to bounce back from scoring just 12 in the previous two games combined.
McRae has been the hottest of the bunch, though. He’s averaged a blistering 28.0 points per game in UT’s last five games (4-1 record). Stokes got another double-double at Auburn (11 points, 12 rebounds), but his 1-of-10 free-throw shooting was a concern.
He returned to Knoxville and worked on his form at 3 a.m. the morning after the Auburn game. Coach Cuonzo Martin could be forced to put Kenny Hall on the floor in the game late if it’s close due to Stokes’ struggles at the line.
Martin on Missouri:
“Very talented. I think they’re the only Division I team with six guys that average double figures. They space you out offensively, they make 3-point shots, they score on the block. Very similar to Florida in how they score the basketball – you can’t identify just one or two guys, you have to guard all five guys.”
Tennessee is currently tied for sixth in the SEC, but could finish anywhere from third to ninth in the SEC depending on results from Saturday. … The Vols are 8-3 in their last 11 Senior Day games. … Tennessee has won seven of its last eight. … McRae is shooting .590 from 3-point range over the last six games. … Martin is two wins shy of reaching 100 in his career. … Stokes is averaging a double-double in league play (13.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg). … As of Friday afternoon, just a few hundred tickets remained for the game. Martin asked fans to be at the game by 3 p.m. ET to build up the energy early. ... The Vols are currently tied for seventh in attendance nationally (17,104). ... Oriakhi scored five points and grabbed five rebounds against UT when he played in Knoxville in 2012 as a member of the Connecticut Huskies.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga