When the Tennessee Volunteers take the court against Oakland University on Monday night, they better come ready to play.
The Golden Grizzlies are a holdover from Bruce Pearl's annual schedules, in which the Vols sought out solid mid-majors in an attempt to accumulate wins while maintaining a strong RPI. Yet in each of the past two years, the Vols' season has taken a turn for the worse against Oakland in eerily similar fashion.
In 2010, Tennessee was a top-five team following a victory at Pittsburgh when the Volunteers lost to Oakland, 89-82. The loss began a three-game losing streak the the Vols, who would not recover their consistency over the rest of the season.
Last year, an 89-81 defeat sparked a four-game losing streak for Tennessee that included defeats to Austin Peay and Charleston. That losing streak is likely what kept the Vols out of the NCAA Tournament in Cuonzo Martin's first season.
Even the games themselves have been very similar. The final scores were nearly identical, and in each game the Golden Grizzlies benefited from a big individual performance (Keith Benson in 2010, Reggie Hamilton in 2011).
Benson and Hamilton have graduated, but Travis Bader and Duke Mondy form a high-scoring backcourt that could give the Volunteers trouble. Tennessee's defense has been strong for much of the season, but it will be important for the Vols to avoid any lapses in energy against Oakland's shooters.
Tennessee should look to follow the same formula it has throughout the early season, with Jarnell Stokes leading the offensive attack on the inside. Stokes is a very physical player who should be a tough matchup for Oakland.
The Volunteers find themselves in a similar position to recent years, with this game against Oakland ideally serving as a tuneup for potential resume-building matchups against Georgetown, Virginia and Wichita State. But if recent seasons are any indication, the Vols absolutely cannot afford to get caught looking ahead.
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