Photo by Mississippi State University Athletics ( @HailStateMBK on X)
By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn- No. 5 Tennessee (11-3, 1-0) begins SEC road play with a trip to Humphrey Coliseum to take on Mississippi State (11-3, 0-1) in Starkville Wednesday.
The Bulldogs began SEC play with a 68-62 road loss to South Carolina (13-1, 1-0) Saturday.
Here are observations on the Bulldogs from their defeat against the Gamecocks.
One of the better qualities of Chris Jans’ bunch last season was its size.
Tolu Smith was the centerpiece of the Bulldogs last season, averaging just under 16 points and nine rebounds.
But Smith has only played in the Bulldogs’ last two games this season as he has been recovering from a devastating leg injury. Smith did not start in either game.
West Virginia transfer Jimmy Bell has started in Smith’s usual position in every game so far. Bell’s averages are also sitting just underneath a double-double.
The other two forwards featured in the starting lineup are DJ Jeffries and Cameron Matthews.
Both are 6-foot-7 and have been integral parts of the lineup for the past three seasons. Jeffries is the bigger scoring threat between the two, but Matthews is a strong defender and well-built at 230 pounds of muscle.
HUBBARD: A NEW SCORING THREAT
Last season, the combination of Shakeel Moore and Dashawn Davis at guard was capable of scoring for the Bulldogs, but experienced its fair share of struggles from distance.
In their latest recruiting cycle, the Bulldogs brought in Josh Hubbard.
Hubbard, an instate recruit from the Jackson area, smashed a 37-year-old record in Mississippi by scoring 4,367 points in high school.
Hubbard has quickly become the best three-point threat for the Bulldogs, shooting just over 39% for the year. In the conference opener, Hubbard had the most made threes for the Bulldogs to go along with a couple of midrange makes.
Though it is a new season, the identity remains the same for this Bulldogs team.
Offensively, the Bulldogs found early success against South Carolina around the rim, similar to the way they did last season. Regardless of the opponent, they will attack the paint first.
The length of the Bulldogs works to their advantage on defense. Their physicality on that end is something that opponents dread playing against. The Bulldogs will not hesitate to press if they get behind.
The biggest reason for the Bulldogs’ collapse in Columbia revolves around three-point shooting on both ends of the court.
Remember how Josh Hubbard led the Bulldogs in made three-pointers against the Gamecocks? He had two of the Bulldogs’ three makes from distance in the loss.
The Bulldogs dominated from a physical standpoint in the opening half, but not so much on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs led the Gamecocks for much of the first half, but the lead never exceeded eight points as all but one of the Bulldogs’ makes were inside the arc.
The Gamecocks shot their way back into the game via the three-pointer, and a lack of three-point attempts by the Bulldogs in the second half kept them from taking a lead.
If the Vols can at least have an average game from distance Wednesday, they will pose a serious threat to the Bulldogs.