The regular season has come down to two more games for No. 25 Tennessee, one at Auburn and, following an announcement from the SEC Thursday, a home game on March 7 against Florida.
First up are the Tigers, who are expected to be without dynamic freshman guard Sharife Cooper on Saturday when theVolunteers visit Auburn, Ala.
Tennessee (16-6 overall, 9-6 SEC) is playing for a higher seed in the upcoming SEC tournament. The Vols are currently slotted in fifth place, but can finish the regular season as high as second.
Tennessee has work to do and improvement still to make, having alternated wins and losses over the past five games. The Vols are coming off a 70-58 win over short-handed Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, in which Victor Bailey Jr. scored 21 points and Jaden Springer added 20.
Bailey has been on a scoring tear the past three games, having led the team in scoring in each. He had 29 points against South Carolina on Feb. 17, and 18 against Kentucky on Feb. 20 to average 22.7 over the stretch.
"He's got to be better defensively. He has a tendency not to guard and push up on the ball. We think he could be a really good on-ball defender," Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said after Wednesday's win.
"On offense, I still think he's got to keep going downhill with the ball. He had a chance a couple of times tonight; he just stopped himself. He's letting it come to him and not trying to do too much, and he's letting other guys play and create some shots. We've got to get more guys playing to their strengths."
Bailey's 11.4 points per game are second-best on the team. Springer is Tennessee's scoring leader at 12.4 per contest.
The Tigers (11-13, 5-10 ) fell 74-57 to visiting Florida on Tuesday. Cooper, a highly regarded freshman, has averaged 20.2 points per game in each of the 12 he's played, all as a starter.
Head coach Bruce Pearl said Cooper was injured in practice last Sunday.
"We never rush guys back," Pearl said. "He's working to try to get back but we just don't know."
AL.com reported that Cooper is dealing with a left ankle injury and is in a walking boot. Auburn has lost three straight home games.
The young Tigers have dealt with injuries to top players, a self-imposed postseason ban and, along with every other team in the nation, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Without Cooper, the Tigers trailed by 22 points at halftime against Florida. Devan Cambridge led Auburn with 14 points.
"Devan's been consistently solid defensively," Pearl said. "Devan can make shots. Devan's been very consistent, as consistent as anybody."
Allen Flanigan's 13.9 points per game lead Auburn, with Cooper out. The Tigers have lost three straight games overall, six of their past seven and are 2-5 in conference games played at home.
--Field Level Media