Arizona vs. Tennessee NCAA Basketball Preview and Best Bet

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Center Christian Koloko #35 of the Arizona Wildcats. Rebecca Noble/Getty Images/AFP

One of the marquee NCAA basketball games of the week – assuming it’s played – features No. 6 Arizona visiting No. 19 Tennessee on Wednesday night. Which way to lean at BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks

Arizona Wildcats vs. Tennessee Volunteers

Wednesday, December 22, 2021 – 07:00 PM EST at Thompson-Boling Arena 

It’s one of the slower weeks of the college basketball season both because of the Christmas holiday and because a lot of programs have shut down due to COVID outbreaks. Thus, assuming it’s played, Wednesday’s matchup between No. 6 Arizona of the Pac-12 and No. 19 Tennessee of the SEC from Knoxville might be the best game we see the rest of 2021. ESPN2 has the telecast. 

It's the fifth all-time meeting between these schools and the first since the 1998-99 season opener. The Vols lead 3-1 on the NCAAB picks. The school have not met in Knoxville since 1982. It also is just the second time in UT history that the Vols have played a Pac-12 school ranked in the Top 10. 

Arizona Exceeding Expectations 

This was expected to be a be bit of a rebuilding year for Arizona with major NCAA allegations hanging over the program and a new head coach in former long-time Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd, but he’s showing why he was in high demand with the Wildcats up to No. 6 in the nation and one of the nation’s few unbeaten at 11-0. To make the Final Four, the Cats are +350 at BMR’s top-rated books. 

Arizona has had only one game postponed so far and comes off an 84-60 home win over California Baptist on Saturday. The Cats trailed by 11 less than four minutes into the game and didn't take their first lead until there was 9:01 left in the first half but then blew the doors off. 

Azuolas Tubelis finished with 19 points and Bennedict Mathurin added 14. Christian Koloko added 12 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks, and Oumar Ballo had 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks as Arizona blocked 12 California Baptist shots. Arizona is among the national leaders in blocks per game (7.1) and it was the second time it has had double-digit blocks on the year.

Arizona players average 79.4 inches (6-foot 7-inches) among those players that play at least 10 percent of the team's minutes this season. That height ranks as the second-tallest in the country. The 7-foot-1 Koloko is averaging 13.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks.  

UA also has won seven games by at least 20 points. It is 11-0 to start the season for the first time since starting the 2014-15 campaign 12-0. Arizona leads the nation in assists per game (21.8), scoring margin (+28.2), scoring offense (91.0), rebounds per game (44.4), and two-point field goal percentage percent defense (38.8). 

Wednesday is Arizona’s second game this year vs. a ranked school – it thumped then-No. 4 Michigan 80-62 on November 21 in Las Vegas. The Cats remain without graduate transfer Kim Aiken Jr. who has missed the past four games due to personal reasons and is not expected to play in this one. He averages 5.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game

Arizona is 4-1-1 against the spread on the NCAAB odds in its past six vs. teams with a winning record.  

Vols Could Be Rusty 

Tennessee (8-2) is +900 to reach the Final Four on the NCAAB odds. Its two losses were at neutral sites to excellent teams in Villanova and Texas Tech, and the TTU defeat was in overtime. 

The Vols were supposed to play a talented Memphis side on Saturday but that was postponed so they haven’t taken the floor since a 96-52 home rout of USC Upstate on December 14.

A total of 45 percent of Tennessee's points this season have been scored by first-year Vols. The team as a whole is attempting 8.5 more three-pointers per game than last season (28.4 per game compared to 19.9). In wins, UT is shooting .396 from long range. In losses, that number is an ugly .164

Tennessee ranks fourth in Division I in assist/turnover ratio (1.80), fifth in turnover margin (+7.1), and sixth in assists per game (19.3 apg) while ranking Top 10 nationally in steals per game (10.6 spg, 7th) and scoring margin (+20.6 ppg, 9th). 

Freshman guard Kennedy Chandler leads the Vols in averaging 14.6 points. Forward John Fulkerson has been playing for Tennessee since the 2016-17 season! He will play in his 142nd game on Wednesday, which would tie the school record set by Wayne Chism from 2006-10.  

Vols head coach Rick Barnes owns a 1-8 career record against Arizona and is 32-23 against current members of the Pac-12 Conference. Tennessee is 21-12 all-time against current Pac-12 programs and won at Colorado earlier this month. First-year Tennessee assistant coach Justin Gainey was an assistant coach at Arizona from 2018-20. 

All that time in between games may cost the Vols, who are just 1-4 ATS in their past five after scoring at least 90 points in the previous game. Arizona is playing as well as anyone in the country right now. Simulations I have run have the Cats winning by three.  

NCAAB Pick: Arizona +2 (-115) with BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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Arizona +2 (-115)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.