Tennessee has faced some stout early-season competition but would do well to avoid overlooking visiting Mercer on Wednesday. The Bears are off to a solid start to the season and in need of a signature win, which they could pick up by knocking off the Volunteers.
Tennessee is one of the youngest teams in the nation, but that hasn’t stopped Rick Barnes’ squad from racing out of the gate with some impressive performances. The Vols are coming off a solid showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, where they went 2-1 with quality wins over Purdue and N.C. State as well as a tough loss to No. 5 Villanova. Two of the Bears’ five victories have come against non-NCAA Division I teams, but they’ve played some decent competition as their losses against Power Five opponents Central Florida and Colorado both were by nine points. Mercer routed tiny Hiwassee College 90-53 on Sunday without leading scorer Ria’n Holland, who is day-to-day with an ankle injury but expected to play against the Vols.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network Plus
ABOUT MERCER (5-2): The Bears had a rare losing season in 2016-17 but returned more than 94 percent of their scoring this campaign. Holland (20.2 points, 56.8 percent from 3-point range) leads a senior-laden lineup that includes four starters and a trio of experienced guards. Fellow senior guard Demetre Rivers (10.3 points) is the only other double-digit scorer, but Jordan Strawberry (8.7, 4.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists) is a huge catalyst for the team’s success.
ABOUT TENNESSEE (4-1): The Vols are led by an excellent sophomore class that includes forward Grant Williams (15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds) and fellow starters Jordan Bowden and Jordan Bone, who both are averaging 9.2 points. Williams and junior forward Admiral Schofield (12.4 points) are the team’s only double-digit scorers, but Tennessee has benefited from balanced offense and played tough at the defensive end. Kyle Alexander (6.4 points, 8.4 rebounds) has been big on the offensive boards, averaging 4.4 rebounds.
1. The Volunteers ranked in the top 10 nationally through Monday in offensive rebounding with 15.4 per game.
2. Tennessee leads the SEC with an average of 8.6 steals and has scored at least 20 points off turnovers in four of its five contests.
3. Mercer leads the all-time series 4-3, but Tennessee has won the last two meetings.
PREDICTION: Tennessee 79, Mercer 65