Starting Tuesday night.
The Vols (13-10, 5-5 Southeastern Conference) host Arkansas (16-7, 4-6) at 7 at Thompson-Boling Arena with an opportunity to pick up a Quadrant 2 victory, which would be the team's third of the season and fifth of the Quad 1 or 2 variety.
The Razorbacks are coming off back-to-back overtime losses against Auburn and Missouri, both without guard Isaiah Joe, who is out indefinitely after having arthroscopic debridement surgery — the removal of fragments — on his right knee. Arkansas is 1-2 without him this season, having defeated Texas Christian on Jan. 25.
"When I've watched them all year, I think Coach (Eric Musselman) has done a great job," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said Monday. "Eric has just done a great job coaching — he really has. They're aggressive; they drive the ball really hard. They obviously lost a key player that shoots the ball and that you had to give a lot of attention to, but he still has them being aggressive.
"They're a really terrific defensive team. They really get in that gap heavily and make plays in the gap, and they really turn you over, and when they do I think they're terrific at getting out and getting those baskets and making you pay there, so again it goes back to ball security, but I think he's come in and done a terrific job with them. Again, they lost a terrific player, but I've watched them for many years, and he knows what he's doing and he's going to make the adjustments that he needs to make with this team."
Arkansas is currently 38th in the NET rankings, the NCAA's newest measurement to determine a team's overall resume. The Razorbacks are rated 36th in the KenPom.com rankings, which are based solely on basketball statistical metrics.
So it's a great opportunity for the Vols on Tuesday. Can they take advantage of it?
Here are three ways they can:
1. Guard the ball: The Vols have done a good job guarding opponents this season, for much of the possession. Where teams such as Kentucky have hurt them has been late in the shot clock, where opponents have isolated one of their better ball-handlers against a smaller, less-athletic guard such as Santiago Vescovi and have had success getting to the basket. Arkansas is going to play fast and attack the basket with its smaller lineups, which means the defense on the ball has to be good. At times Saturday against the Wildcats it was, but too many lapses led to too many breakdowns that hurt Tennessee down the stretch.
2. Maybe ... don't try to block so many shots? It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Tennessee blocks shots at a better rate than anybody in the SEC in league play, but that has come at the expense of rebounding, as the Vols allow the highest percentage of offensive rebounds in the league (34.9%). Arkansas doesn't have a player in its primary nine-player rotation who stands taller than 6-foot-8, which means that, in a rarity, the Vols could have the edge in size. This kind of goes with the first point of guarding the ball well, but on top of that Tennessee needs to end opponents' possessions with rebounds.
3. Protect the ball: Vescovi is still a little lackadaisical with the basketball at times, but he's had 25 assists to just 11 turnovers in his last six games. Whereas some of his passes that look good but sometimes are unnecessary have worked against other opponents, Arkansas combats its lack of height with pressure, stealing the ball at a higher rate than anybody in the league. Even with the improved ball-handling as of late, Tennessee still turns the ball over on nearly 20% of its possessions. If that occurs Tuesday, the Razorbacks will be off to the races.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.