Tennessee Volunteers vs Auburn Tigers Preview, Odds, and Predictions

The Tennessee Volunteers and Auburn Tigers tip-off Wednesday night at 7 pm ET with the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Tennessee v Auburn
Tennessee v Auburn / Michael Chang/GettyImages

. 525. ESPN 2. Wednesday, Feb. 28. Tennessee vs Auburn. 21-6, 11-3. 534. 7:00 PM ET. 21-6, 10-4

The Tennessee Volunteers will face off against the Auburn Tigers for the first time this season with the SEC on the line. The Vols and Tigers are nearly identical down the stat sheet and could make for an exciting game between two SEC powerhouses.

Rick Barnes' Volunteers are about to embark on the toughest two-week stretch they will see this season. The Vols have four games remaining in the regular season, and all four games will be against ranked Quad 1 opponents. These next four games will not only decide seeding for the Vols and their opponents in the NCAA Tournament but also decide who is crowned the SEC Regular Season Champions.

Tennessee has been dominant at home, holding a 13-1 record at Thompson Boling Arena, 6-1 against conference opponents, and averaging 84 points per game since the start of SEC play. Auburn has not been particularly successful on the road, boasting a 4-3 record against SEC opponents, but if we have not learned anything in the last few years, these two teams', record means nothing comes tip-off.

The Vols opened as 6-point favorites on Fanduel and that number has hung around 5.5 and 6 points since the line has opened. The over/under is set at 150.5, which tells me that Vegas expects this to be a high-scoring game for at least one of the two teams. I wouldn't be surprised if we see both teams around the 80-point mark at the end of the second half.

Dalton Knecht has been dominant for the Vols this season, averaging 20 points per game and 25.9 points per game since the start of SEC play. Knecht has been the focal point of many defenses, which has allowed other Vols to show flashes and dominate games. Jonas Aidoo, Santiago Vescovi, and Josiah-Jordan James are a few Vols that have taken advantage of Knecht's dominance.

Aidoo has dominated the past two weeks, averaging 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. His recent production has been a big part of the Vols' 4-game winning streak as they have regained first place in the SEC.

These two teams are nearly identical statistically. Auburn has the upper hand in points per game, 82.7 to 80.3, but nearly every other category is a coin flip. The Vols and Tigers are within one of each other in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals.

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I expect both teams to come into this game with a championship mindset. Although this is the only time the Vols and Tigers are scheduled to meet on the court this season, don't be surprised if these two teams meet again late in the SEC Tournament.

My matchup to watch is Johni Broome and Jonas Aidoo. Both are big forwards that have the potential to explode at any point and take over. We've watched this with Aidoo a few times throughout the past few weeks, and Broome is used to being the focal point offensively for the Tigers. Aidoo's defensive presence is going to be needed to help the Vols defense lock down Broome and company down low.

My prediction for this game is that if Knecht scores less than 20, the Vols will win. I know that is a bit antithetical to what I have written and what most think about this Tennessee basketball team, but if Knecht scores less than 20, then others have stepped up and filled his shoes.

There is one player that I have yet to mention that sometimes gets forgotten in big games. He doesn't often have big 20+ point games, but he isn't shy about getting physical and playing with grit. When Zakai Zeigler is the orchestrator of Tennessee's offense, the Vols are often the most efficient team on the court.

Zeigler has scored more than 20 points twice since the start of SEC play, but most recently, he scored 26 in Tennessee's dominant win over Kentucky. He's averaging 13.4 points and 6.9 assists per game in conference play. He might not score 26 again or end the night with a double-double, but don't be surprised if he has another big game on Wednesday.

Regardless of who brings the production on Wednesday night against the Tigers, the Vols will need someone to step up and take over the game. This year's Tennessee team has depth and versatility like we haven't seen in recent years. Barnes doesn't have to rely on one player to lead them to victory. It can be James or Vescovi from beyond the three-point line, Aidoo in the paint, Zeigler creating havoc on both ends of the court, or Knecht taking over the game and being the dominant athlete he has shown he can be.

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This game has a game-of-the-year potential and is going to require both teams to bring their best for a full 40 minutes to get the win. Rick Barnes has one of the best teams he has had since coming to Rocky Top, and Bruce Pearl is looking to play spoiler on the road.