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Rocky Top Preview: Maximum Tyndall

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The undefeated at home in SEC play Missouri Tigers look to defend their court against the bright orange attack of the Donnie Tyndall led Tennessee Volunteers.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou went into the belly of the SEC beast in Lexington and was simply taken behind the woodshed and given a thorough beating Nope, none of that happened I don't know what you're talking about move on please. The Tigers now sit at 1-2 in conference play after two games on the road I don't know what, there's like a missing week in memory for some reason, and are now ready to return to the (hopefully full) friendly confines of Mizzou Arena to take on the Volunteers of Tennessee.

Presenting the Tennessee Volunteers

location: Knoxville, Tennessee

By HHKB Chris: In what is becoming a trend, Tennessee (like Auburn and LSU) has two mascots (technically three), Smokey the bluetick coonhoundSmokey the student in a costume, and the Volunteer. While Auburn having a bird of prey and LSU having a tiger which can be terrifying if seen on the street, Tennessee’s living breathing mammal mascot, is less scary and were it to get loose and come at you bro you'd have a better chance of survival. Smokey X (ten for those not roman numeral inclined -- and definitely not a Bond Villian) lives on campus with the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, and I pity him. Just check out this photo following a football game this year!

UT Smokey Whiskey

Poor dog…UT also has a human in a costume version of Smokey and he looks like a larger version of Smokey sans the spots or you know, the features that may distinguish him from a regular old dog. LAZY! There’s a rumor that there’s a lady version of this costumed dog, though I couldn’t find evidence of this, and that’s for the best. Why do we need dude and lady mascots America? WHY?! Just make them a-sexual and leave it alone, save that costume money and use it to provide your dog mascot in this case with some proper color, so you know he matches the animal he’s supposed to look like.

UT Vols Preview Twins

Finally, Tennessee has the Volunteer, which is some dude who looks like Davy Crockett with all the fringe, raccoon tail hat, and a gun of some kind, either a rifle, or a musket, or a laser gun, I'm not sure! When I think of guns I harken back to the days of the Nine-Trey and the Bop Gun made popular by Ice Cube and George Clinton.

Wait what was that? Did you say, famous Alumni?! Well Tennessee has got them and in droves! We’re gonna really start from the top here, Lockbox, former Vice President of the United States, LockboxPresidential CandidateLock BoxPresidential Winner (dependent on how important counting is to you), Lock Box, Awkward Kisser and Inventor of the Internet where we are currently living, Al Gore! Thank you Al Gore for giving us a place to interactshopdebate, and invariably fall backwards into porn by accident, seriously, I don’t know how that got in my browsing history.

There’s also some actors in the mix, with Dolly Parton, who is known for her singing and acting and nothing else. Her eyes are up here people. Also, Dixie Carter (sort of before she transferred but I don't care she spent money there, she counts) who starred with some other ladies in "Designing Women" which as far as I can tell is about a bunch of ladies who design things(?) but mostly bother Meshach Taylor just because he happens to not be a lady. Poor guy. In this space we don’t typically acknowledge the sporty side of things, but not including a note about Pat Summitt would be stupid and insulting. The court’s named after her and she’s simply a legend. If you have no idea who I’m talking about, get on Al Gore’s internet and find out.

Now, after some time, we’re back in CoMO. Columbia, Missouri, home to our great University and many of you. So when I give a recommendation you know it’s the business. I’m sure I’m not going to be breaking new ground, but I don’t care! If you’re going to be in CoMO and going to the game, go to the Broadway Brewery. I’ve been there twice and their beer is great as is any dish that involves root vegetables. They’re deliciously smoky and will put a smile on your face. If you’re not going to the game (and you better be sick, dead, or in a different time zone, the kids need you!) you can watch the game on the SEC Network. Hopefully the announcers are actually at the game and not sitting in Bristol pretending to be like this is a World Cup Game in 2002.

About Their Basketball Team

TYNDALL FOR WHAT! TYNDALL. FOR. WUT. Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee's new head coach comes into Columbia for the second time in the span of 10 months after leading the Southern Miss Golden Eagles over our Tigers in the second round of the NIT. Tyndall was not exactly the first choice for Tennessee, but he said yes and that's that matters. In another parallel with Mizzou (aside from beating us) is that Tyndall's got a little Frank Haith in him. No, not the desire to flee for a low division one school, but 5 minutes after he was hired, the NCAA started looking into him. Vols fans, we know your pain.

This team that Tyndall leads into Mizzou Arena is much like our Tigers team in that it has had to replace all of it's top players from last year's team who either graduated (Jeronne Maymon) or went to the NBA (Jarnell Stokes) or both (Jordan McRae) because of the way they felt their former coach, Cuonzo Martin was treated by UT and it's fans. Currently filling the role of the scorer is Josh Richardson and almost a Missouri Tiger (he magically didn't sign his LOI a day later Haith was gone), Kevin Punter also went on his way down the SEC road to Tennessee. Armani Moore has also stepped up this season already passing his point and rebound totals from last year.

The Vols currently sit at 10-5 with no terrible losses to speak of but a very interesting SEC result against Alabama at home where they only scored 38 points...total. That's one more point than Missouri scored against Kentucky. They do come in off a big home win over Arkansas (but seriously, who doesn't beat Arkansas at home) that could tell us something or nothing, again it's Arkansas. They've also beaten Mississippi State in SEC play, but really who won't? The Vols, being young and smaller than some SEC team (Mizzou for one) play a mix of a matchup zone and attacking press style of defense that looks to cause you to turn the ball over that results in quick points on the other end.

Now for a closer look at their basketball team, let's chat with somebody who knows them best...

Q&A With ROCKY TOP TALK

Thank you to one of our favorite guys at RockyTopTalk Will Shelton, who is always gracious with his time, for answering our questions about his UT Vols. Go ahead and give Will a follow, and check his work out as he does outstanding write ups for RTT, and has even been on the Podcast!

RockMNationWith all the personnel losses Tennessee experienced in the offseason, how would you define the level of success the team has had this year?

Will SheltonSurprising and a very pleasant distraction.  The NCAA investigation into Donnie Tyndall at Southern Miss threatened to derail interest in this season before it even started when piled on top of low expectations.  And Tennessee, as usual, played a loaded non-conference schedule.  But by beating Kansas State and Butler in the middle of that, it made people pay attention to this team.  They're going to show up every night and they play a brand of basketball that tends to keep them in games.  Tack on another Top 20 win over ArkansasTuesday and now we're showing up in bracketologies and all that, which is premature.  But since this team was picked to finish 13th in the league, I think most thought we'd be at or below .500 right now.  So to be 10-5 with three quality wins and no bad losses is very nice.

RMNDonnie Tyndall is in his first year at UT and aside from the baggage that popped up, how would you say he's done in his first few months?

Will SheltonJust a tremendous job, especially having lost a top assistant to the aforementioned baggage.  Having guys like Josh Richardson and Armani Moore who were trained in the Cuonzo Martin School of Defense helped, but most of these players are brand new and they've been able to implement his system really quickly.  Tennessee's flaws are obvious, but it's not Tyndall's fault we don't have any post depth.  So in dealing with the things that are within his control, he has coached Tennessee up every night and his frank personality is refreshing after such a cool customer in Cuonzo.

RMNJosh Richardson seems to be in the midst of a breakout season, aside from him who should Mizzou fans have their eye on as a potential game changer?

Will SheltonRichardson and Armani Moore are going to get theirs for this team.  The big eye-opener against Arkansas was the emergence of Robert Hubbs, a former five-star guard who had a career high 16 points and just played with incredible confidence against the Razorbacks.  He was hurt last year and hadn't seemed to find his feet just yet.  Perhaps it was an anomaly, but if it wasn't, Hubbs showing up changes a lot of things about this Tennessee team.  Tennessee is very balanced with essentially an eight man rotation and needs one of those guys on the back end to step up every night to give them a chance to win.

RMNHow do you think Tennessee will counter Mizzou's height advantage in this game?

Will SheltonTennessee has only one true post option with any significant contributions this year, and that's freshman Willie Carmichael.  He's also a fouling machine, which has limited his ability to really grow because he can't stay on the floor long enough.  When he's out you'll see long stretches of the Vols playing Armani Moore (6'5", recruiting by Cuonzo as a point guard) and Derek Reese (6'8", played more wing last year) in the post.  The Vols are undersized against everyone and they know it, so they'll use their zone and their press all night to try to prevent offenses from getting anything established, which is what they were able to do for the most part to Arkansas.  The Vols are second in the league and 24th nationally in steal percentage, taking the ball away on 12.9% of opponent possessions.  With the wrong refs on the wrong night those steals become fouls, so the Vols are more likely to get beat at the free throw line trying to disrupt an offense than by just allowing the ball into the post.

RMNWhat's your prediction for this game, and what do you think the final score will be?

Will Shelton: It may have been Starkville, but getting a win on the road was big for this young team, and now they're playing with an extra day off after beating Arkansas while Missouri just played Kentucky's D-League all-stars.  I think all of these things favor Tennessee, and I don't think Missouri is built to take away what the Vols want to do the way Alabama was.  The Vols and Tigers seem similar to me, Tennessee is just playing better basketball right now.  I like Tennessee's ability to frustrate Missouri and get just enough from their guys to win 68-64.

Many thanks to Will for taking the time to answer our questions, check his work out over at Rocky Top Talk as they pretty much cover everything Tennessee, and do a great job with it.

By Sam Snelling: So what we know about Tennessee is that they aren't very good, but dangerous. A fairly similar team to Missouri in that they lost a lot and didn't return much. Their main returner is a senior, and I think that's helped the transition a bit more than Missouri who has had to rely on Johnathan Williams a lot more. And the difference between senior leadership and sophomore leadership looks like about 3-4 wins at this point.

Missouri has also played the tougher schedule, so there is still a lot to learn about this Vols team as the SEC season progresses. But how does Missouri beat them? Let's figure it out with: 3 KEYS PEOPLE!

1) Josh Richardson

Mizzou has struggled to stop the one guy in a lot of games that can hurt them. Richardson is the engine that makes the Vols tick. He averages 16.4 points, 4.2 boards and 3.5 assists. He hasn't improved much on his percentages from a year ago, but that's not a bad thing as he didn't take as many shots. He was a low volume contributor on that team, this year he's a bit more high volume, but he gets everyone else involved. He's prone to bad lapses from his 3-point shooting, and that is going to go a long way towards slowing down the Vols scoring. If he's on, I don't see how Mizzou wins this game.

2) Take Care of the Ball

Tyndall's Souther Miss team causes Mizzou a LOT of problems last spring in the NIT. This year he doesn't quite have the roster he needs to play the pace he wants, but they're still being disruptive on defense, just without the pace. UT actually plays a bit of the same pace as Mizzou, but they still press and can turn you over. I think Tyndall has realized that he doesn't have a high scoring outfit, so he uses his press to get the ball back, but keeps the pace slowed down to manage offense a little more. This method has put UT in the top 25 for turnover percentage at roughly 23%. If Mizzou can manage the ball pressure and keep the turnovers down, they'll find success in the half court.

3) Control The Defensive Glass

This is actually a 4 factor thing here, but UT is not a great shooting team, they do have athletes, and they will crash the glass. An Offensive Rebound percentage at 37% is good enough for 26th in the country. That number has evened out quite a bit in recent weeks suggesting some inflation from some early non-conference games. But they've still got guys who can go get the ball. Armani Moore, a 6-5 swing forward type, is probably the biggest guy to keep an eye on in that regard. However, considering that Missouri is at home, will likely get the benefit of some calls, and a bigger bulkier team than UT, there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to keep the Vols off the glass.

Tennessee is a bit of an intriguing team, their roster is a bit of a mess, and Tyndall has really just patched things together with voodoo magic and he's come up with a team that can be downright awful at times (see: Alabama), but just finds way to be competitive against good competition and scraps to win some games. The trio of Moore, Richardson and Kevin Punter do a lot of work and have helped stem the tide in the turnover that happened when Cuonzo Martin left.

Quite honestly I was feeling good about this game a week ago, and then Auburn and Kentucky happened and I'm a little worried about this teams ability to turn the page. Like I mentioned above UT has senior leadership, and a guy in Richardson who has been in Knoxville the whole time. Missouri has Keith Shamburger and Keanau Post, but neither are the senior leadership this team has needed. Instead its fallen back onto JW3 and Wes Clark.

It's because of that reason I have UT winning this game. I see a LOT of reasons the Tigers will prove me wrong, and frankly I think this is such a tossup game that it can go either way. I just think that UTs strengths outweigh Missouri's right now, plus Tennessee has shown the ability to go on the road and be competitive with good teams. They played tough at NC State, and have beaten Butler and Kansas State. Missouri really should win this game, but in the end I think it will be a score of around: Tennessee 63, Missouri 61.

UT Preview Predictions

Make your predictions below, and your trifecta picks as well. For the trifecta, I like JW3's ability to get back on the horse, Jakeenan Gant to have a bit of a breakout, and Keanau Post to show up again.