Tennessee Volunteers vs. Memphis Tigers Preview and Pick

Tennessee Volunteers (24-2) +5.5, 157 O/U at Memphis Tigers (26-0) -5.5, 157 O/U, FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn., 9 PM Eastern, Saturday.
by Badger of Predictem.com

The No.1 and No. 2 teams in the country rarely meet during the regular season, but thats exactly what will happen tonight when the 2nd-ranked Tennessee Volunteers travel to FedEx Forum in Memphis to face the undefeated and top-ranked Memphis Tigers on ESPN.

Unless youve been trying to avoid the hype surrounding this game, you most likely already know that this in-state rivalry has suddenly become a final four game, a bad blood border-war, and a Mike Tyson fight all rolled into one. Tickets are going for $5,000 on Ebay, so that alone should tell you how big this game has become.

As you would expect when the top two teams meet, both come into the game with impressive credentials. Not only is Memphis the only undefeated team left in country, but the Tigers also sport the nations longest home winning streak currently sitting at 47 games. Tennessee comes into the game on an eight-game winning streak, including two tough wins on the road at LSU (47-45) and Georgia (74-71) to prepare for the showdown game.

Offshore Sportsbooks opened the game with the top-ranked Memphis as 5.5-point favorites, with a 157 point total for over/under bets. Memphis is also a -250 on the moneyline, while Tennessee is listed at +210.

Offensively this game should be a blast to watch. Both teams employ deep, athletic lineups that thrive on an attack-first mentality that should turn into a high-scoring, back-n-forth show made perfectly for television.

Memphis features a dynamic dribble-drive offense perfectly tailored for point guard Derrick Rose (13.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.3 apg), swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts (17.9 ppg, 46.5 3-pt%) and inside bruiser Joey Dorsey (10.5 rpg, 7.4 ppg). Those main three combine to make an offense that scores 80.8 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting from the floor.

Tennessee also sports one of the games top offenses, averaging 83.9 points per game with a lineup that has three players (Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Tyler Smith) that posts double figures in scoring on a regular basis, and three more (Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Ramar Smith) that can do it on any given night too. Lofton, who went off for 34 points versus the Tigers in last years game (a 76-58 upset win by Tennessee), is playing exceptionally well of late (ave. 18.8 ppg during 8-game win streak).

It is on the defense end of the floor where these two teams are vastly different. The Tigers use a press-and-trap scheme that smothers opponents (allows just 61.2 ppg) and forces quick decisions and bad shots (4th in NCAA in defensive FG% - 37.6). Memphis is also one of the best rebounding teams in the NCAA, with an average of plus-9.4 rebounds a night (also 4th in NCAA).

Tennessee is very good at closing out to the 3-point line, as they only allow five 3-pointers a game and is the 5th in the country with a low 29.1 shooting percent allowed from behind the arc. But they have a tendency to lose intensity on defense from time-to-time, looking to trade an easy bucket for a fast breakout the other way.

Prior to last years upset win by Tennessee in Knoxville, the Tigers and Volunteers have played only twice in the last seven years. Memphis had won two straight on their home floor (88-70 in Dec. of 2006 and 71-69 in Dec. of 2001), but sports bettors will tell you that Tennessee has covered the number in all three games since 2001.

Tennessee has covered the spread in six of their last eight games during the win streak (a solid 13-9 ATS for the year), but the two games the Vols have failed to cover were their last two road games.

Theres no denying that Memphis is a public team, so with a lot of action on the Tigers each week theyve had to face some large spreads as favorites. Consequently, they have covered in just three of their last eight games and are an average 13-11-2 ATS for the year. The Tigers do seem to play well versus SEC teams, as they are 9-4 ATS in their last 13 games versus the stronger conference.

Ironically, both high-powered offenses dont automatically make betting on the over a profitable venture. Memphis is slightly better with a 14-12 over/under record, while Tennessee actually plays under with a 10-12 record versus the total this year. Two of the three recent meetings head-to-head have come in under the total as well, including last years game, which closed at 161.

Badgers Pick: Get the beer and snacks ready before tip-off because this is going be a fun one. My gut feel on this game tells me foul trouble is going to be a big factor in this game. Tennessee will get the bigs on Memphis in foul trouble early, and the Vols will make free throws at the end to spring the upset. Take Tennessee and the points.