Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics
Sixth-ranked Tennessee boasts as good a defense as any college basketball team you will find. Ninth-ranked Arizona boasts as good an offense as any college basketball team you will find.
The combination makes for an extremely compelling matchup as the Vols travel to Tucson Saturday night for their first true road game of the season.
“It is going to be tough,” Tennessee sophomore guard Jahmai Mashack said. “They are a really good team. We treat every team the same. We have to come in with the same mindset every game because if we don’t, that will lead to not enough balance on the offensive and defensive end.”
Arizona and Tennessee not only rank as the nation’s leader in adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency, they lead by large margins.
The gap from the Wildcats to the nation’s next best offense is the same as the gap from the nation’s second to eighth best offense. On top of currently having the best defense in KenPom history, the gap between Tennessee and the nation’s third best defense is the same as the game from the nation’s third to the nation’s 26th best offense.
Arizona’s offense does an abundance of things at an extremely high level but it excels most at scoring inside. Azuolas Tubelis (20.2 PPG and 8.6 RPG) and Oumar Ballo (18.1 PPG and 9.4 RPG) make up the nation’s best front court.
With Tubelis and Ballo leading the way, Arizona ranks first nationally in two-point shooting percentage. While it faces a major challenge, Tennessee’s front court is expected to be at full strength with Jonas Aidoo poised to return to the lineup.
“I think it’s going to be hard, because they really do a great job of putting the ball inside,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “There is no doubt when you watch them play, they’re a heavy inside-out team. Certainly have shooters that surround that. But they do as good of a job as anybody. From the time they get the ball, they’re looking at that basket.
“They’ve got post guys that are running to get it and get it early. If not they get ball-screen actions. And they move you to get to it. They do a great job of getting to the rim, throwing it up and going and getting it.”
Point guard Kerr Krissa (11.6 PPG) is the most notable shooter surrounding Tubelis and Ballo having started the last two seasons in Tucson and getting off to a hot 40% three-point percentage this season.
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However, it’s Texas transfer Courtney Ramey (48%) and senior Cedric Henderson Jr. (46%) that have truly excelled from the perimeter this season. Tennessee’s opponents are shooting just 20% from three-point range this season — the nation’s best mark. The Wildcats inside out style will make defending the three-point line more challenging than it has been at any point this season for the Vols.
While Arizona is an inside-out basketball team, don’t confuse them for one that wants to get bogged down in a half court game. The Wildcats play at a faster pace than any other team in the country.
That does lend itself to turnovers and if Arizona’s offense has a flaw it’s just that. The Wildcats turn it over just under 15 times a game and on 20% of their possessions. Tennessee’s forcing the third highest turnover rate of any team in the country and leads the nation in steal percentage.
While Arizona has a tendency to turn the basketball over, they do share the ball extremely well. The Wildcats assist themselves on 65% of their made baskets— the 10th highest mark in college basketball.
“They’re sound fundamentally,” Barnes said. “You look at them, they do a lot of great things. But to be a high-scoring team, you can’t turn it over very much. The way they attack, they run.”
The game marks the eighth time the No. 1 offensive team has met the No. 1 defensive team according to KenPom. The No. 1 defensive team was victorious in four of the first seven matchups.
Tip-off from the McKale Center is at 10:30 p.m. ET. Kevin Fitzgerald and Jimmy Dykes are on the call for ESPN2.