USC Basketball Game Preview: Tennessee Volunteers


USC Trojans (6-5) at No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers (7-2)

Head Coach: Bruce Pearl (Year 6: 219-86)

Conference: SEC


Location: Knoxville, Tennessee (Thompson-Boling Arena)

Time: 4:00 PM (PDT)

TV: Fox Sports Prime Ticket

Radio: 710 AM

Matchup: USC trounced Tennessee at the Galen Center in 2009, but the game takes a special meaning this year now that Tennessee fans hate USC for taking away Lane Kiffin.  Even before the season started, USC head coach Kevin O’Neill joked that he really wanted Lane Kiffin to attend this game. If Kiffin actually attended the game, it is doubtful he would make it out alive given the overreaction by Tennessee fans when he left for the USC job. Then, certified clown and UT basketball coach Bruce Pearl upped the ante when he proclaimed, “I’ve made mistakes, I clearly did, but what I was hoping for was that some other dumbass would get on the front page and take me off the hook. I miss Lane Kiffin” Please Bruce. Stick to lying to the NCAA, having your salary cut for being dirty, getting suspended by the SEC, and deflecting criticism because you’re sitting on a scalding hot seat.

For the Trojans, victories and losses have come in pairs, which would indicate another loss. USC is coming off of a devastating loss at No.3 Kansas, where they had a golden opportunity to steal one and have Kansas walk off the court the loser at Allen Fieldhouse for the first time in 65 games. Jio Fontan and the rest of the USC offense struggled in the first half of the transfer guards debut, but the turned on the jets in the second half and outscored the Jayhawks. If USC can build on their first game with Fontan in the lineup, better days may come their way.

Tennessee began the season 7-0 and rose to number seven in the rankings, but back-t0-back shocking losses to Oakland and Charlotte have set them off course and dropped them in the rankings. The Volunteers made it to the Elite Eight last year, and are hoping to repeat their success.

With Fontan in the game, USC’s offense ran more smoothly. They handled Kansas’s zone by working the ball inside and then passing around double teams. The fast ball movement created open shots and lanes for others to penetrate and take high percentage looks. If Tennessee doesn’t double Vucevic and Stepheson inside, they can handle their man one-on-one. If they do try to double team in the paint, the guards will be ready to score. Despite the progress, USC needs its freshman to step up. Maurice Jones, Bryce Jones, and Garrett Jackson had played very well for the Trojans so far. However, they combined for 2 points in nearly 32 minutes against Kansas. Nikola Vucevic must also continue to dominate games. He is an animal inside, averaging a double-double for the year. Even when he doesn’t score, his presence opens up an opportunity for someone else to score.

The Volunteers love to run a fast tempo game. They press on defense and use their tenacious defense to create points in transition. They love to shoot the three (16 attempts per game) and need to be guarded closely. When Tennessee is hot from beyond the arc, they are nearly impossible to beat. Three players average double figure, including Scotty Hopson, Tobias Harris, and Cameron Tatum. Because the Vols run at a frenetic pace, they use an eleven man rotation. USC’s depth is rather thin, and the pace could be an issue late in the game. Tennessee has a few guys that match up height wise with USC, but the Trojans should clean up on the board because the Vols don’t rebound particularly well. Against Kansas, offensive rebounds killed USC, and they must limit second chances on the road against a ranked opponent.

Without a doubt, Tennessee will be hungry for revenge after two inexplicable losses in a row. Add to the fact that their fans will be fired up, and USC is walking into a lion’s den. They handled themselves well at Kansas, but it remains to be seen if they can control their emotions in another environment after the tough loss at Kansas.