NC State has a chance to get a signature resume-builder win against Tennessee. Does the Wolfpack have a chance at the upset?
TV schedule: Saturday, December 16th, 10:00 pm ET, ESPN2
Arena: Frost Bank Center in San Antonio, Texas
Among power conference programs not playing “buy games”, no team has had a tougher schedule to open the season than Tennessee (6-3). And while they’ve taken a few losses, the Vols have also gotten some big wins. That includes from this past weekend, beating Illinois.
The final score of that game was 86-79, led by 21 pts from star wing, Dalton Knecht. All five starters in that game were in double figures, including Josiah-Jordan James with 12 pts, 6 rebs, and 7 asts. With Zakai Zeigler looking healthy and having an impact on both ends, this Vols team looks every bit of an SEC and Final Four contender that has already been battle-tested.
And they have another test coming up in the state of Texas, a neutral site game against NC State (6-2, 1-0). The Wolfpack bounced back from two straight losses to BYU and Ole Miss to beat Boston College on the road in overtime to open ACC play, followed by a 93-61 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore. Six players were in double figures for that win, led by 21 pts from Butler transfer, Jayden Taylor.
This NC State roster is completely different from a year ago so many are still trying to figure out how good they are. It’s a fairly balanced roster in terms of scoring, with four players averaging between 12-15 ppg. Big man DJ Burns will be tough for Tennessee’s Jonas Aidoo to deal with inside, while Kansas transfer and former five-star prospect MJ Rice made his in-season debut last game, scoring 11 pts off the bench.
The kind of impact that Rice gives throughout the season could be what takes the Wolfpack to the next level. And the Vols don’t have much to scout him on so he could have a big game on them this weekend. Still, we do know what Tennessee has to offer and there’s no adjustment needed on their side. This should be a fun late game to watch but, in the end, look for the SEC to get an extra win from the prior challenge.
Prediction: Tennessee 76, NC State 68