By Luke Thomas
The Volunteers are preparing for a monumental, must-win, battle with the Wisconsin Badgers as they look to stop some of the bleeding they are facing following a rough 1-2 record in their last 3 games. All of the momentum the Vols worked to build up to start the season, including a top 25 victory over the Washington Huskies, appears to be lost after a heartbreaking loss to the 9th ranked Memphis Tigers and an abysmal performance in their 78-66 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats. All of this occurred as Tennessee’s leader, Lamonte’ Turner, revealed he would undergo season-ending surgery to relieve pain caused from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a rare condition in which a blood vessel or nerve is compressed below the neck area.
In short, things are looking extremely gloomy for the rest of Tennessee’s season. In fact, some may argue that making the NCAA Tournament, which seemed very likely just a few weeks ago, should now be the goal for the Vols. However, the point is clear, the significance of Saturday’s match-up with Wisconsin can not be underestimated. If the Volunteers drop the game to the Badgers there will be massive pressure on the back of Santiago Vescovi, who will likely be charged with the task of relieving true-freshman PG Josiah James. But if the Volunteers can get a victory against Wisconsin, they may be able to slow the bleeding and recover in time for SEC play, which will start on January 4th against LSU.
As for Wisconsin themselves, and the makeup of their team this season, they are extremely inconsistent. Their season has been filled with highs and lows, and while they have earned double-digit victories over Marquette and Indiana, they also have suffered stunning losses to teams of the caliber of Richmond and Rutgers. You can expect the Badgers to rely heavily on Nate Reuvers, who is a threat at the post and from behind the arch. Reuvers leads Wisconsin in points per game, rebounds, and blocked shots, so you’ll be sure to see a lot of him throughout the game. Another scoring threat from the Badgers is Kobe King, who averages about 11 points per game, and a 46% field goal percentage.
This game is extremely difficult to pick because of the amount of unknown factors on Tennessee’s end such as where the Vols will turn with Lamonte’ Turner out of the picture and Santiago Vescovi not ready yet. However, in the end, I’m having to roll with the Volunteers simply because of one key statistic. The Badgers haven’t won a game all season on the road as they have racked up a shocking 0-5 record. If the Vols have a decent crowd in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday then I’d really like their chances to pull out a squeaker over the Badgers.
I expect Yves Pons to provide crucial minutes during the game, especially on the defensive end, and Josiah James to pass one of his first big tests at this level as I predict he will lead the Vols in scoring. You can catch the match-up and find out if my prediction will hold true on CBS, Saturday at 1:30ET.