Tennessee (5-0) vs. USC Upstate (0-7)
Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020 | 4:01pm CT
Knoxville, TN | Thompson-Boling Arena | TV: SEC Network
Knoxville, TN – #8 Tennessee men’s basketball suits up for its final contest before the start of SEC action, with a Wednesday night matchup with USC Upstate. Tipoff from Thompson-Boling Arena is slated for 4:00pm CT on SEC Network.
Fans can catch Wednesday’s game on SEC Network and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App, or online at espn.com/watch. Courtney Lyle and Daymeon Fishback will have the call.
Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertlekamp describing the action.
Last time out, UT rolled past Saint Joseph’s, 102-66, marking just the fourth time in program history the Vols have scored 100-plus points in back-to-back games. The Orange & White were led by six double-digit scorers for the second consecutive game and a punishing 45-27 advantage on the boards.
A victory on Wednesday would give UT a perfect 26-0 record against current members of the Big South Conference and would leave head coach Rick Barnes just four wins shy of tying Phog Allen and Don Haskins for 20th on the all-time Division I wins list.
Tennessee won its only previous meeting with USC Upstate, beating the Spartans 74-65 in Knoxville on November 16th, 2013.
The Volunteers are a perfect 25-0 all-time against current members of the Big South Conference.
Vols head coach Rick Barnes also has an unblemished career record against current Big South teams (21-0).
Barnes and USC Upstate coach Dave Dickerson are both members of the Gary Williams coaching tree. Barnes was an assistant under Williams at Ohio State during the 1986-87 season. Dickerson was on Williams’ Maryland staff from 1996-2005. The Terrapins won the National Championship in 2002.
A Win Would
Leave Rick Barnes four wins shy of tying Phog Allen and Don Haskins for 20th on the all-time Division I wins list.
Tennessee has won 78 percent of its games as a ranked team during the Rick Barnes era (60-17).
Wednesday completes a nine-day span during which the Vols played four games.
Seniors John Fulkerson and Yves Pons were both named to the Wooden Award preseason top-50 watch list. Pons also earned a spot on the preseason watch list for the Naismith Trophy College Player of the Year.
Tennessee’s starting lineup this season has featured five left-handers. A survey of all Division I SIDs yielded no other teams that have started five southpaws this season.
Undefeated Tennessee has been extremely balanced offensively this season. Only once thus far has a Vol scored more than 20 points, as reigning SEC Freshman of the Week Jaden Springer had 21 off the bench in the December 18th win over Tennessee Tech.
Tennessee leads the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 51.2 points per game.
According to KenPom, the Vols rank third nationally and first in the SEC in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 86.4 points per 100 possessions so far this season. College teams average close to 70 possessions per game.
The Vols are forcing 18.2 turnovers per game while converting those turnovers into 20.2 points per game. Tennessee’s turnover margin stands at +8.4 (seventh nationally).
Reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons has 78 blocks in his last 36 games.
Making three straight field goals against this Tennessee team has been a mighty task so far this season. No UT opponent has strung together more than five consecutive makes.
About USC Upstate
Last season, USC Upstate was a youth-filled team featuring seven sophomores and seven freshmen. This season, second-year head coach Dave Dickerson returns all five starters from last year’s squad with things looking up for the future of the program.
Through seven games, the Spartans still have yet to claim a win, holding an 0-7 overall record and an 0-2 mark in the Big South heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the Vols.
Despite an 0-7 start to the year, sophomore Tommy Bruner has seen an impressive opening to his second year in Spartanburg. Through six games played, he’s averaging 14.5 points and an eye-popping 5.2 assists per contest, while also being a thorn on the defensive end with 1.7 steals per night.
Classmate Khydarius Smith has played himself into a starting role. Through seven games, the Fort Mill, South Carolina, native is averaging 6.6 points per game and leads the team in both rebounds (4.7 rpg) and blocks (1.6 bpg). He rejected a career-high four shot attempts in the Spartans’ contest with Georgia Southern earlier this month.
Upstate has also seen consistent production from one of the team’s seasoned veterans, junior Bryson Mozone. Mozone ranks second on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg), third in rebounding (3.9 rpg) and fourth in both assists (0.9 apg) and steals (0.6 spg).
USC Upstate is a publicly funded university in the University of South Carolina system, founded in 1967. The school was originally founded as the University of South Carolina Spartanburg, before changing its name to USC Upstate in 2004.
Last Meeting With USC Upstate
The Vols won their 22nd consecutive home-opener, downing USC Upstate, 74-65, in front of 15,119 at Thompson-Boling Arena on November 16th, 2013.
Tennessee committed just five turnovers in the win, marking its fewest in a game since February of 1992.
Starting Tennessee forwards Jeronne Maymon (15 pts, 11 rebs) and Jarnell Stokes (17 pts, 18 rebs) each had a double-double for the first time as UT teammates.
Grad transfer point guard Antonio Barton scored 13 points for the Vols, and Jordan McRae added 18.
USC Upstate was led by Torrey Craig’s 20 points, while Knoxville native Ty Greene scored 15.
That win set the tone for a season for a memorable Tennessee campaign that resulted in 24 victories and a Sweet Sixteen berth under head coach Cuonzo Martin—now the coach of Tennessee’s next opponent, Missouri.
Keon a Defensive Juggernaut
Five-star freshman guard Keon Johnson is performing like one of the best defenders in the nation early in his career as a Vol.
He leads UT in steals (9), charges drawn (4) and floor burns/diving efforts (3). He also has four blocks.
From The Rebound’s Rob Dauster: At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, he can guard anyone from point guards to wings. He’s incredible on the ball, having shown the ability to just eat up an opposing team’s best player multiple times already despite the season being so young. He can flip his hips and beat a driver to a spot. He can jump passing lanes. He never gets screened. He never seems to get tired.”
Bailey Hungry to Contribute
After transferring from Oregon in the summer of 2019, guard Victor Bailey Jr. sat out last season and now has two years of eligibility remaining.
Bailey started each of the Vols’ first five games and is tied as the team’s leading scorer with 12.2 points per game. His 45 field-goal attempts are second-most on the team, trailing only John Fulkerson (48).
Bailey played in 73 games in his two years at Oregon, including eight starts, and averaged 7.0 points in 17.9 minutes per game. As a sophomore in 2018-19, he scored in double figures 13 times and dropped a season-high 20 points on UCLA.
Residents of Austin, Texas, the Bailey family is very familiar with Rick Barnes. Bailey’s mother, 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Tonja Buford-Bailey, was an assistant track coach at the University of Texas while Barnes was leading the Longhorns’ hoops program.
Bailey Jr.’s father, Victor Bailey Sr., was a second-round NFL Draft pick out of Missouri in 1993 (wide receiver).
Up Next for Tennessee Men’s Basketball
Tennessee Vols basketball team opens up SEC play and takes its first road trip of its 2020-21 campaign when it travels west to take on Missouri in Columbia on December 30th. Tipoff from Mizzou Arena is scheduled for 8:00pm CT on SEC Network.