When: Tues. 12/20, 7 P.M.
Where: Rocky Top Knoxville, Tennessee
Media: Sports South (TV), WWNC 570/iHeartRadio (Radio)
Good ole’ Rocky Top, so the song goes. Just don’t ask Asheville about the last time they went up there.
Last time? Oh, nothing, just the worst loss in franchise history. The Bulldogs lost to the Volunteers by 75 points, scoring only 14 in the first half before Bruce Pearl let up in the second.
This time looks to be different. Asheville is well rested after dispatching Division II Montreat last week. The team has come a long ways in the two years, as readers of this blog are well aware. Tennessee, meanwhile, has fallen sharply amid a massive recruiting scandal that saw head coach Bruce Pearl unceremoniously dismissed. This year, the Volunteers are 3-6. Moreover, while some of those losses have been close losses to top teams (losing to Duke by 10, losing to Memphis by 2 in double overtime), others have not. In fact, three of their last four losses have come against mid-to-small-major teams: Oakland, College of Charleston (remember that game?) and Austin Paey.
In short, this is the third game Asheville will play this year against a major-conference team that they have a reasonable expectation of winning. The first one was at N.C. State (L) while the second was in the Bahamas vs. Utah (W). Eddie Biedenbach will say that Asheville has had opportunities to win all of the games it’s been in. I halfway agree. However, what I’m talking about here is expectations. I don’t reasonably expect Asheville to beat UNC or UConn, and a lot has to go right in order for such an event to happen. Against other major conference teams, however, a non-player such as myself could look at the matchup and say “yeah, that’s winnable.”
In order to do so, however, Asheville will have to play focused against a Tennessee team that’s lost 4 in a row. Tennessee’s size advantage isn’t as great as, say, UNC’s. However, the 6-9 Kenny Hall and the 6-7 Jeronne Maymon comprise a formidable frontcourt that the FrontCourtByCommittee, especially Quinard Jackson, will have to contain. Good thing they have the practice.
Asheville will need to play tough defense today. In games where Tennessee has scored more than 80 points, they’re 3-2. In games where they score less than 80, they’re 0-4. Asheville will need to control the pace of the Tennessee offense and limit their opportunities for second-chance points and points off turnovers. If they do that, they put themselves in position for the W.
One final note: J.P. Primm is 8 dimes away from becoming the school’s all-time leader in assists. We’ll be on watch for him to break that record in the next 2 games, as he’s currently averaging 4.8 apg.
Asheville 74, Tennessee 71.