No. 19 Tennessee faces early SEC challenge at Arkansas

The Tennessee Volunteers, picked 13th in the preseason SEC media poll, instead have looked like potential contenders for the conference title.

Tennessee won nine of its first 11 games and climbed to No. 19 in the AP Top 25. But the Vols face a stiff challenge in their SEC opener as they visit Arkansas on Saturday.

The Razorbacks (10-2) are undefeated in seven home games this season and are riding a five-game winning streak.

A sellout crowd is expected for Saturday's game.

"We have to make sure we do our due diligence and take care of home," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "We've got a Tennessee Volunteers team that is playing awfully well right now."

Arkansas is averaging 90 points, relying on an aggressive defense and an offense that features five players averaging at least 10.5 points.

"They can really explode on you and score in bunches," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "They are as good in transition as anybody we've played all year."

The Volunteers will counter with a more deliberate offense led by 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Grant Williams, who comes in averaging 15.4 points. Sophomore guard Jordan Bowden adds 12.0 points amd 6-5 junior forward Admiral Schofield is right behind at 11.9.

Defensively, Tennessee is allowing its opponents to score 65.8 points a game. The Volunteers' biggest advantage against Arkansas may be on the boards, as Tennessee is averaging 37.8 rebounds compared with 35.8 for the Razorbacks.

"We've got to keep them off the boards," Anderson said of the Volunteers. "Rick has brought in some guys, including a JUCO All-American. That team has evolved and is one of the top 20 teams in the country."

Arkansas' offense is led by a pair of senior guards, Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. Barford averages 18.6 points while Macon scores 15.3. Barford has improved his 3-point shooting from 26.6 percent as a junior to 46.4 percent this season, leading an Arkansas team that shoots 41 percent overall from beyond the arc.

One player who may be a big key for the Razorbacks is 6-11 forward Daniel Gafford, a true freshman who averages 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds. Gafford collected 16 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in a victory over Minnesota on Dec. 9.

Defensively, Arkansas' goal is to speed up the game and force turnovers that lead to easy points on the other end. The Razorbacks' opponents have committed an average of 16.3 turnovers.

"They're a multiple defensive team," Barnes said. "A little switching, some matchup zone, some full-court pressure. ... They play hard and aggressive. They'll try to turn you over. They switch defenses and see if you can adjust to it."

Tennessee is averaging 13.7 turnovers but the Volunteers also have forced 17.2 turnovers by their opponents.

Both teams have recorded some notable victories this season. Tennessee defeated Purdue and North Carolina State in a tournament in the Bahamas, and also owns road victories at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

Arkansas beat Oklahoma and Connecticut in the PK80 Tournament in Eugene, Ore., and got a home victory over Minnesota.


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