The Big 12/SEC Challenge concludes Saturday at 6 pm EST with a top-20 showdown between the no. 15 Kansas Jayhawks and the no. 18 Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee is favored by 2.5 points at home, with the over/under for the game set at 130 points.
The Volunteers are still trying to play their way out of a funk. Tennessee recently lost two in a row against Florida and Missouri before escaping with a 56-53 win over Mississippi State earlier this week. It wasn’t the most convincing win, but it prevented a three-game losing skid, bringing Tennessee to 11-3 overall and 5-3 inside the SEC.
Of course, the Jayhawks have endured similar struggles. Bill Self’s team recently suffered through a rare three-game losing streak before overcoming a halftime deficit to beat TCU on Thursday. Despite the win, Kansas is a modest 5-4 in Big 12 play and 11-5 overall, giving them some work to do down the stretch with their NCAA Tournament seed slipping fast.
Any Given Night
Right now, Kansas lacks a player who can give them a consistent effort and lead the team on any given night. The closest thing they have is leading scorer Ochai Agbaji, who is averaging over 14 points per game. But even he’s been up and down recently, scoring just 10 points in a loss to Oklahoma last week. The Jayhawks don’t appear to have enough scoring depth to survive a subpar game from Agbaji.
At times, Marcus Garret has stepped up on the offensive end and is a lock-down defender. But he followed up a 21-point performance against Oklahoma with just eight points against TCU. Forward David McCormack has been equally unreliable, as Self’s faith in him has wavered during the season. Finally, freshman forward Jalen Wilson appears to have hit a wall. Despite averaging over 12 points per game, he’s been held under 10 points in four of his last five games, coinciding with the team’s struggles. He’s also coming off a scoreless performance against TCU.
Who’s the Man? No, Seriously.
The Volunteers are going through similar problems to the Jayhawks. While Tennessee has balance and depth, there is no go-to scorer on the team. Nobody averages more than John Fulkerson’s 11.2 points per game. He’s just one of two Vols who average double figures. As a team, Tennessee shoots just 32.5% from the perimeter, with Santiago Vescovi the only player on the roster to make at least 20 three-pointers over 14 games.
The only silver lining is that Tennessee has seven players who average at least eight points per game. That gives the Volunteers a capable scorer at all five positions. But when a few guys go cold simultaneously, there’s nobody who can carry the team. Instead, the Vols rely on grit and defense to grind out games. As a result, Tennessee is averaging just 56 points over their last three games, which is 16 points below their season average.
At the moment, these teams are mirror images of one another. Neither is in a good rhythm offensively or has elite scorers. This could be an ugly, low-scoring game. With that in mind, bet under 130 total points.