Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
The Big East/SEC Challenge figures to be a little lopsided this year. However, this is one matchup that should bring some intrigue. #19 Tennessee (6-2) is the best the SEC has to offer this year. With do-it-all forward Tyler Smith leading the way, they are the only team capable of making a deep run in the tourney. #23 Marquette (8-1) suffered a big loss to Dayton, but they recovered with an important comeback win against rival Wisconsin.
The Vols need a win here to solidify their elite position in the SEC. This was everyone’s preseason pick to win the conference, and for good reason. Along with Smith, Tennessee returned JP Prince and Wayne Chism. A bunch of newcomers make this team even better, among them are freshmen Cameron Tatum, Scotty Hopson and Renaldo Woolridge. Bobby Maze joins the team as a transfer. During an Old Spice Classic game against Georgetown, Bruce Pearl turned to the freshman Tatum for the big shot, and that’s impressive so early in his career. Oh yeah, the Vols won that game. Tennessee is one of the most athletic teams Marquette will face all year long, including Big East play. Smith is one of the most versatile players in the nation. Tatum and Maze are lightning-quick guards. Not to mention, Tennessee is putting up 85 points per game. However, they struggled to set up their fast break offense against Temple, and got trounced. A loss to Marquette would really open the door for the resurgent Kentucky Wildcats or even the Florida Gators to make a run in the SEC East.
Guard play is crucial for the Golden Eagles. It’s no secret that Marquette relies on its trio of guards to accomplish the bulk of the work. Wesley Matthews leads the team in scoring and is second in rebounding. Jerel McNeal is right behind, and is one of the best defenders in the Big East. Dominic James’ scoring has tailed off this season, but he remains the team’s assists leader. All can defend, and all minimize turnovers. That creates matchup havoc against most teams, but the athletic Volunteers might be able to stick with the speed of Marquette’s guards. On the inside, don’t discount big man Lazar Hayward. He will be the only forward of worth on the court, and is coming off a 19 point, 18 rebound outing against IPFW. It will be important for him to get going, in the Dayton loss he was only able to muster 5 points and 8 rebounds.
The Volunteers have the athleticism to match up with Buzz Williams’ Golden Eagles, and with the home crowd on their side, I expect a Tennessee victory.
Winner: Tennessee Margin: 5-8
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.