clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tigers take on Rocky Top in search of a marquee conference victory

Missouri will look to overcome their road shooting woes in SEC play and pick up a signature win for their résumé.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri 86 | Tennessee 85


1st Half Notes

  • Starters for Missouri: Nick Honor, DeAndre Gholston, D’Moi Hodge, Kobe Brown and Noah Carter
  • Starters for Tennessee: Zakai Ziegler, Santiago Vescovi, Julian Phillips, Oliver Nkamhoua and Jonas Aidoo
  • Vescovi strikes first for Tennessee, drilling a 3-pointer to open the scoring.
  • Kobe Brown drains a 3-pointer to open the scoring for Mizzou.
  • The Tigers have shot just 25% from the field so far, but remain in striking distance thanks to a pair of 3-pointers.
  • Hodge is keeping Mizzou afloat. He has three 3-pointers.
  • Zeilger is up to nine points for Tennessee.
  • A Gholston 3-pointer gives the Tigers the lead. Vols fans have not appreciated the foul-calling thus far.
  • Mizzou is on a 14-3 run. The Tigers have drilled seven 3-pointers.
  • The Tiger shave made seven of their last nine shots from the field, building upon their lead.
  • Mizzou scores the most first-half points Tennessee has allowed all season behind a 50% mark from 3-point range.

2nd Half Notes

  • Hodge attacks the paint and scores the first points of the second half.
  • The Tigers continue to pile it on. Brown has a pair of 3-pointers in the second half.
  • Mizzou continues to answer for each Tennessee punch.
  • Tennessee is on an 8-0 run, and the momentum appears to have flipped.
  • The Tigers respond to the run with a quick 5-0 run to extend their lead to 10 points once again.
  • The Vols quickly strike back with a pair of 3-pointers.
  • Tennessee has overcome a 17-point deficit.
  • The Vols are 19-24 from the charity stripe. Mizzou has seven free
  • Tennessee has reclaimed the lead while riding a complete momentum surge.
  • Foul trouble has haunted Mizzou throughout this contest, and it’ll be the differentiating factor in these last few minutes.
  • Zeigler fouls out for Tennessee, joining Mo Diarra.
  • Hodge fouls out too.
  • Vescovi misses a 3-pointer, and Mizzou will have one more opportunity to tie the game.
  • Brown knocks down a layup, but Vescovi drills both free throws. This will be yet another chance for the Tigers to tie.
  • DeAndre Gholston’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gives Mizzou the victory.

Pregame Notes

  • Isiaih Mosley did not make the trip to Knoxville, per reports. It was due to personal reasons and not anything disciplinary.
  • Ronnie DeGray III is in street clothes, sitting on the bench. Tre Gomillion is going through warm-ups but nothing has been announced yet.

5 Fan Questions:

  1. Who will lead the team in scoring?
  2. How many three-pointers will the Tigers hit?
  3. Will Mizzou have over or under 15 assists?
  4. How many turnovers will Mizzou force?
  5. How many points will Kobe Brown have?

Lastly, drop your game predictions and MVPs down below.

Rick Barnes’ tenure at Tennessee has been full of winning and conference glory despite his inability to make a deep NCAA tournament run with the Vols.

Yet again, his team is towards the top of the SEC standings and playing some elite defense behind veteran players. The Volunteers (19-5, 8-3) are as physical and well-coached a team as Mizzou will play all season, and the fans at Thompson-Boling Arena will be hoping UT can replicate their 80-61 winning performance from last season in Columbia.

Missouri regained its shooting touch against South Carolina on Tuesday, but they have struggled to shoot the ball well in most road conference contests. In order to be respected nationally, the Tigers need to solve their issues on the road.

Between this game and Auburn on Tuesday, Dennis Gates and co. have two opportunities remaining to pick up another signature win that can headline their NCAA Tournament résumé.

Game Info

When: Saturday, Feb. 11

Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN

Time: 5:00 p.m. CST

TV: SEC Network

KenPom Win Probability: 13%

The Starters


PG: Nick Honor (Grad)

SG: D’Moi Hodge (Grad)

SF: DeAndre Gholston (Grad)

PF: Kobe Brown (SR)

C: Noah Carter (SR)

Key Depth: Sean East II (G, SR), Isiaih Mosley (G, SR), Aidan Shaw (SF, FR)


PG: Zakai Zeigler (SOPH)

SG: Santiago Vescovi (SR)

SF: Julian Phillips (FR)

PF: Josiah-Jordan James (SR)

C: Olivier Nkamhoua (SR)

Key Depth: Uros Plavsic (SR, C), Tobe Awaka (FR, PF), Tyreke Key (SR, SG), Jonas Aidoo (SOPH), Jahmai Mashack (SOPH, SG)

*These starters are projected based on past lineups and pregame updates.

Get To Know Tennessee

It has been business as usual for Rick Barnes at Tennessee this season. He brings a 773-399 career record into this game, and he stands at 169-85 with the Volunteers. A bonified Hall-of-Famer and one of the most respected coaches in the country, Barnes just needs to make it to the Final Four to complete his story on Rocky Top.

He has a team that is certainly capable of doing that. Tennessee suffered a head-scratching blowout loss to Colorado in the second game of the season, but they have been on a tear since then. They won the Battle 4 Atlantis by knocking off Butler, USC and Kansas, and they followed that up with a win over Maryland in Brooklyn. They lost a hard-fought game to Arizona in the desert, but they cruised through SEC play until they hit an offensive wall in a 63-56 loss against Kentucky. After picking up a couple more wins, including a victory over Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, the Vols stumbled. A lost to Florida, an ugly win over Auburn and a loss to Vanderbilt have put Tennessee in a slump at this point in the season.

Tennessee is 8-5 against Quads 1 and 2 this season, and 11-0 against Quads 3 and 4.

Defense, defense, defense…and more defense. Tennessee has an identity under Barnes, and they stick to it. They’ve held 16 teams to less than 60 points this season, and that only scratches the surface of their statistical successes.

The Vols rank 1st in adjusted defensive efficiency, 1st in effective opponent FG%, 10th in turnover percentage and 33rd in block percentage. They only allow opponents to shoot 22.8% from behind the arc and 43.5% inside of it.

On the offensive end, the Vols have some mediocre numbers. Tennessee does, however, crash the offensive glass like few other teams in the country. With the athletes and size the Vols have, they are tough to contain on the boards, allowing them to rank 2nd in the country in offensive rebound percentage (via KenPom).

There are plenty of cogs to this team, but a three-member core leads the way.

Santiago Vescovi arrived in Knoxville halfway through the 2019-20 season, and he has started nearly every game since then. The guard from Uruguay is the stereotypical Rick Barnes player. He’s tough, plays excellent defense and can shoot the lights out from behind the arc.

Vescovi is as experienced as any player in the country, and he’s shooting a modest 34.7% from three-point land. He’s seen it all in the SEC, and he will make Missouri’s defenders work to keep up with him on the perimeter.

Josiah-Jordan James is another multi-year starter on this roster, although he missed much of the start of this season due to injury. The former 5-star small forward returned against Mississippi State on Jan. 3 after nearly a month of not playing. After knocking off some rust early in conference play, James dropped 22 points against LSU on Jan. 21 and has worked his way back into being a primary member of the rotation.

The last member is Zakai Zeigler. If you aren’t familiar with his story, I highly encourage you to read this piece (

The 5’9” guard has become a fan-favorite thanks to his aggressive play style and feel for the game. Generally running the point for the Vols, Zeigler plays much bigger than his frame and is what the kids these days would call a “dog” on defense. On offense, he’s got a nice shot and is more than capable of making plays off of drives, as he tends to get lost in the paint.

The rest of the team is filled with rotational players that fill different roles.

7’1” Uros Plavsic hails from Serbia and brings plenty of competitive fire to this team along with four rebounds per game. He and Jonas Aidoo form a fearsome duo in the paint. Aidoo stands at 6’11” and has grown into an expanded role in his second season on Rocky Top. The two of them combine for 1.5 blocks per game.

Olivier Nkamhoua completes a roster full of international players. He came to Knoxville from Finland and has been one of the more consistent offensive performers on this team. Highlighted by a 27-point performance against Texas, Nkamhoua can score at all three levels and is a strong 6’9”, 236 lbs. Between him, Plavsic and Aidoo, the Vols have some big bodies that can take over a game at times.

Jahmai Mashack is another player that has grown into a larger role this season, and he primarily earns his minutes on the defensive end, averaging 1.3 steals per game. Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key is another marksman alongside Vescovi, as he shoots 35.1% from behind the arc.

Julian Phillips quickly earned a starting role on this team, which is tough for a freshman to do under Barnes. The former 5-star is a gifted scorer, and his 6’8” frame makes him a mismatch for most defenders.

3 Keys To The Game

  1. Outwork the Vols at their own game

Barnes’ teams pride themselves on being more physical and aggressive than any team they play. The Vols win because they take defense so seriously and don’t allow opposing teams any form of breathing room on the offensive end.

Obviously, this is a contrast in styles. In their own right, Missouri works pretty hard on the offensive end to get their shots. So, it’s strength vs. strength here. The Tigers will have to outwork Tennessee when they are on offense, because the cuts and open looks that have been there in recent games will not be so easy to come by. This is a gut-check game that will show how gritty this Missouri team is willing to be.

2. Run UT off the 3-point line

Tennessee’s offense is wildly inconsistent, but when they are at their best, they are knocking down plenty of threes. There’s six players to fear from behind the arc, but Vescovi and Key are the primary targets to locate and keep up with. That’s easier said than done, as the two of them are constantly moving on the floor and are members of one of the most well-conditioned teams in the country.

The Tigers have the personnel to keep up with Vescovi and Key’s movement, but they can not have lapses on the defensive end. Tennessee is an experienced team that will take advantage of any defensive mistakes the Tigers make. Force Tennessee to become a post-up, mid-range team, and the road upset may be well within reach.

3. Fix the road shooting woes

Outside of the Ole Miss game, Missouri has failed to shoot better than 32% from behind the arc in SEC road contests. The Mississippi State loss was just the latest example of this, as Missouri shot 6-for-23 (26%) from 3-point range.

Improving that mark will not be easy against the Vols. Their defense rarely allows open looks from deep, and they have the athletes to keep up with the many shooters that the Tigers throw at teams. Any boost Mizzou can get from behind the arc will be huge in a game that will likely not feature a lot of points.

Game Prediction

My Prediction: Tennessee 68 | Missouri 61

KenPom Prediction:

This is Missouri’s lone shot at Tennessee this season. While the Vols have been dominant for much of this season, they have shown times where they are vulnerable (CU, UK, UF games).

If there are any factors that characterize Barnes’ teams in Knoxville, they are stalwart defense and scoring droughts.

You will have to earn every bucket you get against Tennessee. That is a given. Barnes does not allow softness on his team, meaning that for every loose ball, rebound and defensive possession, his team will be locked in and want it more than the opposition does. Missouri will have to match that intensity or risk being run out of the building.

The perplexing part about the Vols is how often they struggle offensively. With Vescovi, Jordan-James, Zegler and Phillips, there is no reason that Tennessee should struggle to score over large periods. However, with a team that utilizes the three-ball frequently and relies on perimeter shooting to open up the offense, there will be lulls in production. The Tigers will have to play one of their better defensive games of the season to ensure that that happens.

While there are certainly things Mizzou can do to even this game out, this is a very tall order. Tennessee’s depth and physicality will likely wear down this Tiger team, and the Vols are going to be motivated to bounce back after losing two of their past three. Also, Mizzou needs to prove that they can travel with their explosive offense against high-level competition, because they have yet to be able to this season.

Gates’ team will hang around, but Tennessee will pull away late in this game.