Hoops Central: #22 Tennessee vs. #3 Kansas

The 22nd-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team is set to play for the Battle 4 Atlantis championship Friday in the Bahamas, taking on the defending national champion, third-ranked Kansas Jayhawks at approximately 7:30 pm ET.

Fans can catch Friday’s game on ESPN and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App, or online at espn.com/watch. Jon Sciambi (play-by-play) and Jimmy Dykes (analyst) will have the call.

Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Brian Rice and Bert Bertelkamp describing the action.

Tennessee (4-1) defeated USC in overtime Thursday in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals, 73-66. Freshman Julian Phillips had a breakout performance for the Vols, scoring a season-high 25 points and pulling down a season-high eight rebounds, while Olivier Nkamhoua finished in double-figure scoring with 12 points and six rebounds.

Kansas (6-0) advanced to Friday’s championship game by defeating Wisconsin on a buzzer-beating game-winner in overtime, 69-68. The Jayhawks defeated NC State in their opening game in the Bahamas on Wednesday, 80-74.

Friday’s matchup marks the fourth time in the past five seasons that Tennessee has faced Kansas. The Jayhawks hold a 2-1 edge in the three most recent matchups, but the Vols won the last meeting on Jan. 30, 2021, in Knoxville, 80-61.

Following Friday’s Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, Tennessee will return to Knoxville for a three-game homestand, beginning with a meeting with McNeese State on Wednesday at 7:15 pm ET on SEC Network. Tickets are available at AllVols.com.

THE SERIES

• Tennessee trails its all-time series with Kansas, 2-4, dating to 2009. The programs have met three times during the Barnes era at Tennessee. Most recently, each team won on its home floor in consecutive SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchups in 2020 and 2021.
• Tennessee’s first-ever triumph over Kansas came on Jan. 10, 2010, when the Volunteers shocked the top-ranked and unbeaten Jayhawks, 76-68, in Knoxville.
• A victory on Friday would give the Vols their 22nd win over a ranked opponent during the Barnes era, and their 10th top-10 triumph during that span.
• Counting last month’s exhibition win over No. 2 Gonzaga, Tennessee is riding a five-game win streak against AP top-10 opponents.
• Tennessee has logged eight AP top-five wins during the Barnes era.

SCOUTING REPORT

• Five star freshman Julian Phillips has been Tennessee’s top performer this week, leading the Vols in both scoring (18.0 ppg) and rebounding (7.0 rpg). He erupted for 25 and eight in Thursday’s wins over USC—both season-highs.
• Senior wing and Tennessee’s leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James is shooting an SEC-best .526 from 3-point range this season (10 of 19), but he has been inactive this week due to left knee soreness.
• Less than one month ago, the Vols beat then-No. 2 Gonzaga in a neutral-site exhibition in Frisco, Texas, with James inactive.
• According to KenPom, the Vols rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 85.0 points per 100 possessions.
• The rims at Imperial Arena haven’t been kind to the Vols’ shooters this week, as Tennessee is shooting .242 from 3-point range (8 for 33).
• Tennessee this week is forcing 21.5 turnovers per game and converting those turnovers into 21.5 points per game.

LAYUP LINES

• Tennessee is chasing its first holiday tournament title since November 2010, when Scotty Hopson and current 76ers star Tobias Harris fueled the Vols to the NIT Season Tip-Off championship, defeating VCU and No. 7 Villanova at Madison Square Garden.
• The last time Tennessee played three games in three days, the Vols went a perfect 3-0 to capture the 2022 SEC Tournament championship in Tampa back in March.
• Tennessee now owns a 6-2 all-time record through three appearances at the Battle 4 Atlantis (2013, 2017, 2022).
• Among Division I teams, only Virginia, Xavier and Utah State have a higher assist rate than Tennessee’s 69.0 percent this season.

ABOUT KANSAS

• Kansas (6-0) enters Friday’s Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against Tennessee coming off a 69-68 overtime win over Wisconsin on Thursday in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals.
• The third-ranked Jayhawks defeated NC State on Wednesday in their opening game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 80-74.
• Kansas head coach Bill Self is in his 20th season as head coach at KU and 30th overall. Self has posted a 562-124 (.819) record at Kansas.
• Dating to last season, the defending national champion Jayhawks have won 17 straight games.
• Redshirt junior forward Jalen Wilson, who had 29 points and 14 rebounds during Kansas’ semifinal win over Wisconsin, is the Jayhawks’ leading scorer (24.3 ppg) and rebounder (10.3 rpg).
• Wilson was a starter on last season’s Kansas national championship team, averaging 11.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and being named a All-Big 12 third-team selection.
• Kansas was picked to finish second in the Big 12 by the league’s coaches during the preseason, while Wilson and redshirt senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. were named preseason All-Big 12 by the league’s coaches.
• The Jayhawks second-leading scorer is freshman Gradey Dick—the 2022 Gatorade Player of the Year and a 2022 McDonald’s All-American. Dick is averaging 16.8 ppg so far this season and has recorded two 20-point games.
• McCullar Jr., a Texas Tech transfer, is averaging 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds through six games. McCullar Jr. posted an 18-point, nine-rebound effort on Thursday against Wisconsin. He had eight points and 10 rebounds during Texas Tech’s win over Tennessee last season in New York City.

PHILLIPS, DICK MET AS PREP HOOPERS EARLIER THIS YEAR

• On Feb. 11, 2022, national No. 1 Sunrise Christian Academy (Can). took a major step toward securing the top seed in the GEICO National Championships by defeating No. 3 Link Academy (Mo.), 74-65, at the Heartland Hoops Classic.
• That game featured current UT freshman Julian Phillips (Link Academy) and KU freshman Gradey Dick (Sunrise).
• Phillips and Dick later faced off in the 2022 McDonald’s All-American Game, in which Phillips scored nine points and Dick logged three. Current Jayhawks Earnest Udeh and MJ Rice also played in that game and were teammates with Phillips.
• Interestingly, Vols assistant coach Rod Clark was an assistant at Sunrise Christian Academy, which is located in Bel Aire, Kansas, from 2017-19. And 2022 SEC Tournament MVP and NBA Draft pick Kennedy Chandler attended Sunrise Christian shortly after Clark transitioned to the coaching at the collegiate level.

VOLS OVERWHELMED #2 ZAGS

• In a neutral-site charity exhibition on Oct. 28, Tennessee overwhelmed preseason No. 2 Gonzaga, 99-80, in Frisco, Texas. And that was without preseason All-SEC wing Josiah-Jordan Jameswho did not dress.
• Playing in a game setting, in front of fans, for the first time in nearly 20 months, grad transfer Tyreke Key led the way with a game-high 26 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-7 from deep.

LAST MEETING WITH KANSAS

• A 53 percent shooting performance and a dominant rebounding effort pushed the 18th-ranked Tennessee basketball team past No. 15 Kansas, 80-61, on Jan. 30, 2021, at Thompson-Boling Arena. The victory clinched the 2021 SEC/Big 12 Challenge for the SEC, 5-4.
• The Volunteers ripped down 38 rebounds, out-rebounding the Jayhawks by 15 and holding Kansas to zero second-chance points.
• Tennessee was also lights out from both 3-point range (8 of 13) and the foul line (16 of 17).
• Naismith Defensive Player of the Year candidate Yves Pons dropped in a team-high 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, while draining both of his attempts from 3-point range and pulling in five rebounds to help spark UT at multiple key moments .
• John Fulkerson scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, pulled down six rebounds and dished off three assists.
• In his first start since returning from injury, Tennessee freshman Jaden Springer tallied 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal. Springer was also a perfect 7-of-7 from the charity stripe.
• The Vols’ reliable stat-sheet stuffer, Josiah-Jordan Jamestotaled nine points while logging a game-high 11 rebounds, dishing out four assists and adding one block.
• Off the bench, junior Victor Bailey Jr. scored 11 second-half points to help the Vols extend their lead after halftime. Bailey also finished the night with four assists, a pair of rebounds and a steal.
• Tennessee dominated for large stretches of the night’s opening 12 minutes, using a 12-4 run over a five-minute stretch to take a 21-12 lead with under eight minutes to play in the opening half.
• The Vols continued to pour it on as the half concluded, stretching their lead to as many as 16 before taking a 40-26 advantage into the break.
• It was more of the same in the second half, as Tennessee extended its lead to 21 in the frame’s first five minutes, knocking down six of nine shot attempts.

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