Tennessee Volunteers (9-2 SU, 3-4-1 ATS) vs. Memphis Tigers (9-2 SU, 3-4 ATS), 4:00 p.m. EST, Thursday, December 31, 2009, FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Tennessee +1/Memphis -1
All eyes in Tennessee will be on the Tennessee-Memphis rivalry on Thursday afternoon, as the two teams battle it out for bragging rights and a key non-conference victory at the FedEx Forum.
Last season, Tyreke Evans and the Tigers came away with a hard-fought 54-52 victory. The year before, Tennessee won the game when the two teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2. Either team could win it this year, as it should be another classic, and both teams really need a win in this one to cap off their non-conference resume.
Tennessee has played a weak schedule with only two games against quality competition. The Vols lost both of those games, 73-72 to Purdue and 77-55 to USC, both on neutral courts. Their best win was a 57-53 win over DePaul, arguably the worst team in the Big East.
Memphis has played an even weaker schedule. The Tigers lost by just two points to No. 1 Kansas on November 17, but none of their other wins can even be considered remotely decent. They also lost by a point to UMass a couple weeks ago.
Since the UMass loss, Memphis defeated Southeast Missouri State by 30 and IUPUI by 20, both at home. Since Tennessee’s blowout loss to USC, the Vols won 99-78 at home over North Carolina A&T in their last game.
Tennessee and Memphis are very similar this season. Both teams are forcing a lot of turnovers, shooting a high percentage from the field, holding their opponents to under 40 percent from the field, and defending the 3-point line well. Tennessee is forcing 20.9 turnovers, shooting 48.4 percent, and holding opponents to 39.6 percent overall and 28.5 percent from beyond the arc. Memphis is forcing 19.0 turnovers, shooting 46.9 percent, and holding opponents to 39.8 percent overall and 31.0 percent from 3-point range.
With both teams countering each other’s strengths so well, it should be another tight battle that goes down to the wire. Tennessee is slightly better in each of the four above-mentioned categories, so even though the Tigers are at home they will have to do the little things well like win the rebound battle and get to the free throw line more than the Vols in order to win this game.
Sophomore 6-foot-7 guard Scotty Hopson has emerged as Tennessee’s go-to player this season, leading the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game and shooting 51 percent from the field. Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism are very effective down low but both can also step out and play on the perimeter. Smith and Chism are combining for 22.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. The Vols need other guards like Cameron Tatum, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince to step up in this game.
Sophomore 6-foot-4 guard Elliot Williams, a transfer from Duke, is carrying the Tigers this season with 20.7 points per game. The Vols have plenty of long athletes to defend Williams so he will need to work extra hard to get open. Doneal Mack, Wesley Witherspoon, Roburt Sallie, Willie Kemp and Williams are all capable of lighting it up from beyond the arc, but the key will be establishing an inside game with Will Coleman and Pierre Henderson-Niles.
Tennessee is 9-3-1 ATS in its last 13 games as a road underdog and 10-4-1 ATS in its last 15 games overall as an underdog. The Vols are 1-3-1 ATS in their last five games following a SU win and 3-7-1 ATS in their last 11 games following a SU win of more than 20 points. The Tigers are 14-6 ATS in their last 20 home games but only 1-5 ATS in their last six games as a favorite.
Tennessee is 4-1 ATS in its last five games against Memphis. The total has gone under in four of the last five meetings between these teams. The road team is 5-1 ATS in the last six Memphis-Tennessee games and the underdog is 7-0 ATS in the last seven meetings between these rivals.
Ryno’s Pick: This game will be very entertaining and tight the whole way through. But Tennessee does everything a little better than Memphis does, so the Vols should be able to hold the lead for most of the game. As long as the Vols can contain Williams, they should be able to play well defensively. Tennessee has won four of the last five with Memphis ATS, and the road team and the underdog has been dominant lately. Tennessee happens to be the road underdog in this one, so the Vols are the way to go. Take Tennessee +1.