After the departure of its top three players to the NBA, Tennessee was expected to slip a couple of notches in 2019-20.
While the season is just four games old, evidence of such slippage has yet to exist. The Volunteers have used strong defense and good guard play to get out to a 4-0 start and earn a No. 20 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
Tennessee will aim for its fifth straight win when it welcomes Chattanooga to Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Monday night.
The Vols are coming off a 76-41 rout of Alabama State on Wednesday night as senior guards Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden each joined the 1,000-point club for their careers. They are the 51st and 52nd players in school history to make it there.
“Their growth has been amazing and both of them are very hard-working, great people,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “They’re the kind of people that you want to be around every day. I don’t know if they ever have a bad day.”
The only bad days involved with the Vols’ program are the ones opponents have. Tennessee is limiting teams to 57.3 points per game and 37.0 percent field-goal shooting. That includes a 75-62 win on Nov. 16 against Washington, which at the time was ranked 20th, in Toronto.
There was no letdown on the defensive end in the blowout of Alabama State. The Vols permitted the Hornets to make only 28.0 percent from the field, including a miserable 4 of 20 on 3-pointers, and forced 19 turnovers that led to 21 points.
“There’s going to be nights like that where we can’t put the ball in the basket,” said freshman Josiah-Jordan James, who grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out five assists to make up for 1 of 7 shooting. “We’ve got to stop them from putting the ball in the basket as well.”
Chattanooga (3-2) went through one of those nights on Wednesday evening at Florida State, where it converted only 39.0 percent of its field goal attempts in an 89-53 defeat. The Mocs had won three straight prior to that setback.
Chattanooga was outrebounded 41-30, ceding 16 points on 11 offensive boards, and permitted 23 points off its 16 turnovers.
“You have to learn what’s been good to you and what’s not been good to you,” said Mocs coach Lamont Paris. “You’re constantly learning that throughout the season, so what breeds success for us and what causes pitfalls?
“That means we need to stick to the things we do well and avoid those pitfalls. It sounds very simple to say, but at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to.”
Junior guard David Jean-Baptist leads the Mocs with a 16.4-point scoring average. Wing Matt Ryan puts in 15.4 points per game.
Bowden leads the Vols with 17.5 points per game.
Tennessee leads the all-time series 33-6, although Chattanooga won the last meeting in 2016 in the teams’ season opener.
–Field Level Media