basketball Edit

Tigers start SEC play with league's biggest test


On last week's SEC teleconference, Cuonzo Martin called Tennessee a team with no obvious holes. All the Vols have done since then is destroy Georgia 96-50. The Vols shot 53% and had a 29-point lead at halftime in pushing their record to 12-1, the only loss an overtime setback to top-ten Kansas.

When asked if he'd seen anything to change his stance on Tennessee, Martin laughed and shook his head.

"I thought they played well," Martin said. "They do a great job."

The Tigers finished non-conference play 9-3 and won every game they played in December. But they haven't been tested the way Tennessee will test them.

"They can get buckets around the basket and also rebound at a high level too," Kevin Puryear said. "They have shooters on the outside like Bowden and Schofield and all those guys. They've got a pretty complete team."

"It's not just Grant," Martin said. "It was unknown that they would win a championship last year. They had an opportunity to win a championship, so now you have everybody returning. What's the next thing? Let's try to win it all.

"Guys that have been in the program have seen success. It trickles down to the new guys in the program seeing what it takes to be successful. This is our mission and nothing can get in the way of this mission."

Missouri will try to get in the way of it. But Martin said it will take a great defensive effort to do so. Every player on the court for the Vols is a threat, which means the Tigers won't be able to help off of anybody defensively very often. Grant Williams is the returning SEC Player of the Year and is averaging 19.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.

"Strong around the rim, dribbles the ball, does a great job passing the ball," Martin said. "You're talking, I would imagine, one of the five best players in college basketball right now."

"I'm excited about it," Puryear, who should draw the defensive assignment on Williams, said. "I'm going to go out there and do my job and make everything for him as hard as it can possibly be."

Grant Williams is the front-runner to repeat as the SEC Player of the Year.
Grant Williams is the front-runner to repeat as the SEC Player of the Year.

But the Vols are far from a one-man show. Admiral Schofield averages 18.2 and six rebounds, Jordan Bone averages 14 and 6.4 assists and Kyle Alexander averages 10.4 along with 7.4 rebounds.

"They're a really good team. They play hard, play together," Jeremiah Tilmon said. "We're about us. We know they're a good team. We're going to take the name off the jersey and just go out there and play."

So what are the Tigers' goals for this game? Same as every other one.

"Hopefully," Martin said, "We win the game."

Missouri beat the Vols 59-55 a season ago. The Tigers and Vols tip off at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.