Busting Brackets

Memphis vs Tennessee: 2021-22 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 14: Jalen Duren #2 of the Memphis Tigers celebrates against the Alabama Crimson Tide during a game on December 14, 2021 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated Alabama 92-78. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 14: Jalen Duren #2 of the Memphis Tigers celebrates against the Alabama Crimson Tide during a game on December 14, 2021 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated Alabama 92-78. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images) /

Rick Barnes and No. 18 Tennessee take on Penny Hardaway and Memphis in Nashville on Saturday. The Tigers are coming off of a huge win over No. 6 Alabama—can they keep it going against the Vols?

TV schedule: Saturday, December 18th, 12:00 pm ET. ESPN2

Arena: Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee

Tennessee and Memphis square off on Saturday afternoon at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for a highly anticipated non-conference matchup. Tennessee leads the head-to-head 15-12 all-time, although the series is tied 10-10 over the last 20 meetings with Memphis having won four of the last five. Tennessee is also 6-0 against Memphis when they are ranked and the Tigers are not, which will be the case on Saturday.

The Vols are led by a dynamic backcourt duo in freshman Kennedy Chandler (14.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.4 APG) and sophomore Santiago Vescovi (13.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.4 APG). Vescovi had to play point guard for the last two seasons but has thrived as a scorer in more of a shooting guard role this season, letting Chandler handle point guard duties. Chandler and Vescovi are also the only backcourt in the SEC in which both players are currently averaging 2+ steals per game.

Tennessee has the No. 1 ranked defense in the country, per KenPom. They are incredibly versatile, physical, and well-coached on that end of the floor. Although he has struggled offensively, sophomore wing Josiah-Jordan James ranks sixth nationally in adjusted defensive rating and can effectively guard the point guard through power forward in most situations.

The Vols have struggled offensively in each of their two losses, scoring 53 points on 33.3% shooting in the loss to No. 9 Villanova and 52 points on 26.8% shooting in the loss to No. 25 Texas Tech. They shot a combined 11-68 (16.2%) from three in those games.

Despite those two losses, Tennessee is ranked No. 6 in the NET, No. 10 in KenPom, and No. 18 in the AP Top 25 after quality wins over UNC on a neutral court as well as a true road win over Colorado. Memphis ranks No. 58 in the NET, No. 34 in KenPom, and remains unranked in the AP top 25 as their losses to Georgia and Murray State seemingly hold them down.

Regardless of the rankings, Memphis is coming off of its best game of the season, a 92-78 home win over No. 6 Alabama. The Tigers started the season 5-0 before losing the next four in ugly fashion prior to bouncing back against the Crimson Tide.

The one constant throughout all 10 games has been the turnover issues, ranking No. 351 nationally (out of 358 teams) in turnover rate. They have four 20+ turnover games, the most in the nation. The team’s three leading scorers—DeAndre Williams, Emoni Bates, and Jalen Duren—have a combined 37 assists and 72 turnovers on the season.

That said, Penny Hardaway was able to figure out a recipe to overcome their turnover issues and put up 92 points in a win over the No. 6 team in the nation. The magic ingredient? Ball movement. Memphis had 20 assists on 32 made shots on Tuesday night.

Hardaway’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class has not dominated, although 6-11 center Jalen Duren has been effective early, averaging 10.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 2.8 BPG. Duren is physically ready to make the jump to the NBA, although further developing his low-post repertoire would greatly help his NBA Draft stock.

Versatile freshman F Emoni Bates is second on the team in scoring at 10.8 PPG, but is shooting just 37.4% from the field and has struggled greatly when asked to be a primary ball-handler for a Memphis team that lacks a reliable true point guard. That said, Bates will not be eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft because of his age, so he has plenty of time to add significant weight to his frame as well as improve as a ball-handler and playmaker. Bates’ potential is evident despite some early struggles.

Tennessee’s approach will differ from Alabama’s in that they will likely not cater to Memphis’ hectic pace. Rick Barnes is reliably old-school in the sense that the Vols will likely attempt to slow this game down and slug it out in a physical, defensive battle. Memphis has the personnel to dominate games physically and athletically although we have yet to really see it.

This matchup against Tennessee will serve as a golden opportunity for the Tigers to show consistency as well as some variation in the style of game that they can compete in.

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I lean towards Tennessee in a close one due to their top-ranked defense and reliable point guard play. Regardless, this is a high-stakes, high-emotion matchup that is appointment television for college basketball fans.

451. 73. 534. Prediction. 68