Finally ranked, No. 20 Tennessee looks to move up

NCAA Basketball
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Now that the Tennessee Volunteers have climbed into the rankings, their next task is to stay there. The first team standing in their way of that goal comes to town on Wednesday.

The No. 20 Volunteers try to make it four in a row as they host the Alabama State Hornets on Wednesday night in Knoxville, Tenn., in a campus game in the Emerald Coast Classic.

Tennessee (3-0) is coming off its most impressive win of the young season, a 75-62 triumph over then-No. 20 Washington on Saturday in Toronto.

One of the most encouraging developments for the Volunteers in November has been the emergence of Yves Pons, who came to Knoxville from France two seasons ago. Pons has scored at least 15 points in all three Tennessee games this season. He is helping the Vols to fill the voids left by the departures of NBA pros Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is noticing Pons’ evolution this season.

“Yves is getting more and more of a feel,” Barnes told reporters after the win over Washington on Saturday. “I feel he is getting more and more confident.”

Pons isn’t just scoring well. He is scoring efficiently. The 6-6 junior is hitting nearly 68 percent of his field goal attempts (21 of 31) and is 5 of 8 on 3-pointers. He has played 101 minutes this season (just under 34 minutes per game) and committed only four turnovers.

With veterans Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner and John Fulkerson returning from last season’s Sweet 16 team, the emergence of Pons gives Tennessee more floor balance and stability. This piece of the puzzle needed to emerge for the Vols. If Pons continues to refine his game and become a dependable scoring option, the Vols will be very hard to guard as their season moves forward.

Alabama State (0-3) heads into Knoxville after losing 84-56 to the Houston Cougars last week. The Hornets have had a full week off, but they haven’t yet played a home game … and will wait a long time to do so.

Alabama State is about to play its fourth game of the season. It will play each of its first 15 games away from home before finally getting a home-court date in conference play on Jan. 11, 2020.

“You do what you have to do,” ASU head coach Lewis Jackson said. “Sometimes you can get lucky and play well enough and try to put a little pressure on teams and hope they don’t stand up to it well enough, and you may steal you one or two.”

Alabama State is an undersized team which will struggle with Tennessee’s depth and length. Tennessee hounded Washington’s guards this past Saturday, limiting the Huskies to 5-of-18 shooting from 3-point range and allowing only 10 free throws to Washington.

Alabama State has only three players taller than 6-foot-5, and none taller than 6-9. The Hornets are led by 6-5 guard Tobi Ewuosho, who led the team in scoring (23 points) and rebounding (six boards) in ASU’s most recent game against Houston.

It is worth noting that against Houston’s tough defense, Ewuosho earned 13 free-throw attempts and made 10 of them. That kind of self-sufficient scoring will be needed against Tennessee.

–Field Level Media

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