Friday, April 25, 2014 · 12:58 a.m.
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Tennessee's pregame huddle (Photo: Jeff Newman)

Tennessee (6-2) at No. 8 Wichita State (9-0)

Saturday, Dec. 14, 2:05 p.m. ET

Intrust Bank Arena (15,000) • Wichita, Kan.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)

Series Record: Wichita State leads 2-1

 

Probable Wichita State Starters

G-Fred VanVleet, 5-11, 195, SO, (11.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.6 apg)

G-Tekele Cotton, 6-2, 210, JR (10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

G-Ron Baker, 6-3, 215, SO, (15.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .400 3FG%)

F-Cleanthony Early, 6-8, 220, SR, (14.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

C-Chadrick Lufile, 6-9, 265, SR (7.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

Key Reserves: Kadeem Coleby (6-9, 250; SR); Darius Carter (6-7; 235. JR); Nick Wiggins (6-6, 192, SR)

 

Probable Tennessee Starters

G-Antonio Barton, 6-2, 180, SR, (8.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .417 3FG%)

G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (18.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.3 apg)

G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (7.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .462 3FG%)

F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (10.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg)

F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (14.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 4.1 orpg)

Key Reserves: Robert Hubbs III (6-6, 205, FR); Darius Thompson (6-5, 180, FR); A.J. Davis (6-9, 212, FR)

 

The opening tip

To the casual fan, a December trip to Wichita State to face a team from the Missouri Valley Conference might not sound like a potential season-defining opportunity.

But Saturday is huge – absolutely critical – for coach Cuonzo Martin’s team as the Vols look to move from an inconsistent NCAA tournament bubble team to a squad that will be feared in March.

The Shockers come into the game ranked No. 8 nationally and currently represent the only top-20 RPI team on UT’s schedule. Those numbers can obviously change as the season progresses, but there’s no denying that UT only gets a certain number of shots to beat NCAA tournament-quality teams this year. This is one of them.

Off to a 9-0 start, Wichita State, coached by Gregg Marshall, a former candidate to take over at UT in past coaching searches, is coming off a Final Four appearance in 2012-13. The Shockers haven’t slowed down this season, already notching victories over teams such as DePaul, Saint Louis and Oral Roberts – all currently top-100 RPI squads.

Wichita can create mismatches at several spots on the floor. Its starting backcourt trio of Fred VanVleet, Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker combine to average nearly 40 points per game. But senior power forward Cleanthony Early (14.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) might be the Shockers’ best overall player. They can run in transition or use Early, forward Chadrack Lufile (6-9, 265) and reserve center Kadeem Coleby (6-9, 259) to outmuscle opponents inside.

And while the Shockers are playing with confidence after last year’s tournament run, the Vols at least have the assurance of knowing they knocked Wichita State off last regular season in a 69-60 decision in Knoxville on Dec. 13, 2012.

UT has struggled, however, in these situations. In Martin’s three-year tenure, the Vols have yet to defeat a Division-I, non-conference opponent in a true road game. That trend continued this season in the opener when the Vols fell at Xavier 67-63.

Quotable

“You’ve got to be tough to give yourself a chance to win games. Especially when you’re going into a hostile environment, you have to be physical enough first and then you have to go play basketball. If you do that I think we’ll be fine. We have the pieces to be successful, we have to go in and play a physical brand without fouling.”

- Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin

Putbacks

Tennessee plays just five games in the month of December and Saturday is the only road contest. … Martin and Marshall used to coach against each other in the Missouri Valley Contest. Marshall holds a 5-4 career edge over Martin. … The Vols are looking for their first true road win of the season. … Tennessee is 6-7 all-time against current members of the MVC. … Wichita State assistant coach Steve Forbes is a former UT assistant who coached under former head coach Bruce Pearl. … This game is being played at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita. The Shockers normally play their games in the on-campus Charles Koch Arena.

Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga

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