Tennessee has been rarely challenged in the early part of this season, but that will likely change before SEC play begins.
The 12th-ranked Volunteers wrap up their non-conference schedule with a couple of tough road tests beginning Saturday with a matchup at No. 24 Xavier.Tennessee (10-1) has won five straight by an average of 17.4 points since losing 97-78 to then-No. 15 Texas on a neutral court Nov. 24 -- the Volunteers' only game against a ranked opponent this season.Tennessee closes its non-conference schedule against significantly stiffer competition as it visits the Musketeers, who were picked to win the Atlantic 10, before playing at Gonzaga (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) next Saturday."We like to play against teams that have a chance to win their league titles," Vols coach Bruce Pearl said after Wednesday's 86-73 victory over UNC-Asheville, which was selected to win the Big South Conference.This will be Tennessee's second true road game, and the Vols haven't played as well in their four games outside of Knoxville this season.Tennessee is averaging 79.0 points and connecting on just 39.1 percent of its shots from the floor away from Thompson-Boiling Arena, compared to averaging 93.7 points and shooting 50.8 percent in its seven home games.Xavier (8-2), meanwhile, has won 14 straight at the Cintas Center, and 50 of 55 non-conference games there since the arena opened in 2000-01. The Musketeers are outscoring opponents by 27.4 points in their six home games this season.Tennessee senior Chris Lofton became the school's all-time 3-point scorer in Wednesday's win, passing Allan Houston's total of 346 by going 4-for-12 from beyond the arc.Lofton, who matched a season high with 24 points, is 18 3s away from passing Arkansas' Pat Bradley's SEC record of 366 set from 1995-99."I was not really paying attention to how close I was," Lofton said. "It's a great accomplishment but it's a team thing. Someone has to throw me the ball in an open spot for me to score. I'm just looking forward to the Xavier game."Lofton had six points on 2-of-3 shooting from 3-point range in Tennessee's last game against the Musketeers, a 71-69 victory on Dec. 11, 2004. Tennessee is 9-4 all-time against Xavier, and the two programs have not met in Cincinnati since 1963.The Musketeers were ranked No. 17 before falling out of the AP Top 25 following last Saturday's 77-55 loss at Arizona State, Xavier's most lopsided defeat since an 80-49 loss to La Salle on Jan. 23, 2000. The Musketeers cracked the AP Top 25 after defeating then-No. 8 Indiana 80-65 on Nov. 24.Xavier shot a season-low 30.6 percent from the floor last Saturday, while the Sun Devils shot 59.5 percent -- the highest for a Musketeers' opponent this season."We lost to a better team," Musketeers coach Sean Miller said. "They took it to us."Xavier is led by a balanced attack of six players scoring in double figures. Junior forward B.J. Raymond and senior guard Drew Lavender are leading the way, averaging 12.3 points apiece.Raymond had a team-high 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting against Arizona State, while Lavender had 10 points on just 3-of-11 shooting.The Musketeers' win over the Hoosiers last month snapped a five-game losing streak against Top 25 opponents. Xavier has lost its last two home games against ranked teams, and is 2-3 against such opponents at the Cintas Center.