Hoops Central: #22 Tennessee vs. USC – 71Bait

Tennessee’s 22nd men’s basketball team will play their second game in as many days in the Bahamas, taking on USC in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals on Thursday at approximately 1:30 pm ET.

Fans can watch Thursday’s game on ESPN2 and online or on any mobile device via WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN app or online at espn.com/watch. Jon Sciambi (play-by-play) and Jimmy Dykes (analyst) will have the call.

Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Brian Rice and Bert Bertelkamp describe the action.

Tennessee (3-1) defeated Butler Wednesday in his opening game of Battle 4 Atlantis 71-45. The Vols outplayed the Bulldogs by 21 points in the second half, thanks in large part Santiago Vescovis 13 half points. Julian Phillips (11) and Zakai Zeigler (10) also contributed double-digit point totals.

USC (4-1) advanced into Thursday’s semifinal game against Tennessee by beating BYU 82-76 on Wednesday.

Depending on the outcome of Thursday’s Vols semifinals, Tennessee will face either Kansas or Wisconsin on Friday. As a result of a win, the pick will be placed into the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game at 7:30pm ET on ESPN. If USC wins on Thursday, Tennessee will play Friday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

THE SERIES

• The Big Orange led their 1967 all-time streak with Southern Cal, 4-3. The programs have never met in a neutral place.
• The Vols have an all-time record of 22-13 against current members of the Pac-12 conference. UT fell to Colorado earlier this season.
• Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes owns an all-time 34-24 record against current members of the Pac 12, including a 1-3 mark against USC.
• See page 4 for a summary of the recent meeting between the Vols and Trojans.
• When Tennessee made its Battle 4 Atlantis debut in 2013, USC was also in the field, led by freshman head coach Andy Enfield. The Vols and Trojans did not meet in this tournament.
• Real Talk – basically, is Will Ferrell really that funny?
• Tennessee now owns an all-time 5-2 record in Battle 4 Atlantis.

SCOUTING REPORT

• Senior Wing Josiah Jordan James is shooting an SEC-best .526 from 3-point range (10 of 19) this season, but he sat out Wednesday’s game with left knee pain. His status for Thursday is in question.
• Tennessee entered the tournament this week averaging 33.7 3-point attempts per game. But in the win over Butler, the Vols attempted just 15 shots from beyond the arc while accumulating a season-best 36 points in the paint.
• According to KenPom, the Vols rank second in the country for Adjusted Defense Efficiency, allowing just 85.3 points per 100 possessions.
• The Vols have kept three of their four opponents off the field with under 33 percent shot this season.
• UT opponents average only 22.8 points in the first half of this year.
• Among Division I teams, only Virginia and Xavier have a higher assist rate than Tennessee’s 71.7 percent.

FORECAST FOR FRIDAY

• Looking ahead to Friday, Tennessee will face either No. 3 Kansas or Wisconsin.
• Tennessee is following its all-time streak with Kansas, 2-4, from 2009. The programs have met three times in Tennessee during the Barnes era. Most recently, each team won back-to-back SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchups in 2020 and 2021 at their home level.
• The Volunteers continue their all-time streak with Wisconsin, 2-3, from 1981. After UT won their first two duels in 1981 and 2000, the Badgers have had three straight wins in 2001, 2016 (Maui) and 2019.
• Tennessee director of athletic performance Garret Medenwald (pronounced: MAY-dihn-wald) was born in Madison, Wisconsin and grew up in Green Bay before starring as a dual athlete in Wisconsin-Whitewater.
• The Bahamas has been home to its very own version of the mythical Loch Ness Monster since the carcass of a large sea creature washed ashore in 1896. The “Lusca” has reportedly been sighted near the blue hole off Andros, and it is rumored to be more than a monster 75 feet long. The Lusca has been described as “half shark and half octopus”.

ABOUT SOUTHERN CAL

• USC (4-1) goes into Thursday’s game against Tennessee after earning an 82-76 win over BYU in their opening game at Battle 4 Atlantis on Wednesday.
• The Trojans and Vols have faced a common opponent this season. USC fell to the Florida Gulf Coast in the season opener, 74-61, while Tennessee beat the Eagles 81-50 at home last week. The Trojans have won four straight games since their season opener was abandoned.
• USC is coached by Andy Enfield, who is in his 10th season as the program’s head coach. Enfield was previously the head coach on the Florida Gulf Coast when the Eagles ran to the Sweet Sixteen as the No. 15 in 2013.
• USC’s top scorer is senior guard Boogie Ellis, entering his second season at the Trojans after moving from Memphis. Averaging 18.0 points per game during the season, Ellis had a career-high 27 points in USC’s win over BYU on Wednesday.
• Guard Drew Peterson is the Trojan’s second-best scorer (15.8 ppg), leading rebounder (8.2 rpg) and leading assist-maker (7.6 apg). Stepping into Battle 4 Atlantis, Peterson was ranked seventh in the nation in assists. Like Ellis, Peterson is in his second season at USC, having transferred prior to last season. Peterson played three seasons at Rice.
• Ellis and Peterson were both named first-team Pac-12 preseason All-Conference Teams. USC was selected to finish fourth in the conference.
• The Trojans entered Battle 4 Atlantis as the nation’s third-best in blocks per game, thanks in large part to forward Joshua Morgan, who averages 3.4 rejections per game.

LAST MEETING WITH SOUTHERN CAL

• Southern California head coach Kevin O’Neill led his unpopular Trojans to a surprise 65-64 win at 18th-place Tennessee on December 21, 2010.
• It ended a home win for USC and O’Neill over the Vols, as the Trojans also defeated the Vols in Los Angeles last December. O’Neill served as Tennessee’s head coach for three seasons from 1994 to 1997 before taking on the same position at Northwestern.
• Tennessee was led by Tobias Harris, who managed one hit and scored 14 goals. Big man Brian Williams added nine points and nine rebounds.
• Maurice Jones led the Trojans with 15 points.
• Donte Smith hit a 3-pointer from the wing over the heads of three Tennessee defenders to give the Trojans a 65-60 lead by 2:13.
• Scotty Hopson and Melvin Goins then each had two free throws for the Vols, with Goins cutting the lead to 65-64 with 47 seconds remaining. UT got the ball back after Jones missed a short jumper with 15 seconds left, but the Vols struggled to move the ball across the floor against USC’s press and called a timeout with 3.5 seconds left prepare game.
• Harris scored a deep 3-point shot on time, but it bounced off the rim.
• USC committed 24 fouls – twice as many as Tennessee – and the Vols shot 24 of 29 from the free-throw line.

SANTI MORE THAN JUST A SNIPER

Santiago Vescovi developed into a much more balanced top scorer last season. In his first two seasons as Vol., he totaled just 45 two-point field goals. Last season alone, he hit 43 two-point field goals — many of them layups.
• In four games, Vescovi – who is on both the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy watch lists – has a team-best 14 steals.

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