FAYETTEVILLE — Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall may have exaggerated a bit when he spoke about Josh Richardson’s importance to his team this season.

FAYETTEVILLE — Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall may have exaggerated a bit when he spoke about Josh Richardson’s importance to his team this season.


But Tyndall’s point was understood. Tennessee first-year coach doesn’t want to imagine what life would be like without the 6-foot-6 guard.


"If we don’t have Josh Richardson we might score about 15 points a game," Tyndall said. "He’s pretty important to us, and he’s been fantastic so far."


Arkansas wants to put Tyndall’s assessment to the test tonight, when it plays the Volunteers in Thompson-Boling Arena at 6 p.m. The 19th-ranked Razorbacks (13-2, 2-0 in SEC) are trying to win their eighth straight and improve to 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1998. Arkansas knows one of the keys to beating Tennessee (9-5, 1-1 in SEC) will be keeping Richardson in check because the rest of the Volunteers have struggled on the offensive end most of the season.


The senior is averaging 16.1 points a game for a team ranked 13th in the conference in scoring (63.9 points) and 11th in field goal percentage (43.4). He had 17 points on 6 of 13 shooting last Saturday. But the rest of Richardson’s teammates shot 25 percent (8 of 32) and scored 21 points in the 56-38 loss to Alabama.


"He’s their best player, he’s a captain," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "He’s been around. This is his fourth year. He’s very athletic and playing a lot different than he did in previous years. His role has really increased. And he’s a leader on this basketball team. He’s scoring for them. He’s assisting for them. He just does a lot of things for them. We’ve got to make sure we pay attention to him."


Richardson — who averaged 10.3 points a game in a different role as a junior — has led the Volunteers in scoring in 10 of 14 games this season. But he’s more than just Tennessee’s go-to player this season. He’s also the Volunteers’ primary ball-handler, averaging a team-high 3.4 assists without a true point guard on the roster.


Richardson is one of 10 scholarship players on Tennessee’s roster this season, including a former walk-on who was just placed on scholarship. Tyndall said only four of those players have Division I experience, but he added the Volunteers are playing through the challenges with Richardson leading the way.


"We don’t have a post player that can just throw the ball to and say, ‘Hey, get out of the way. Go score us a bucket,’" Tyndall said. "And we don’t have a true point guard. So in the half court everything is manufactured. It’s not very pretty and that’s why we’ve got to get some offense from our defense. But when you don’t score, you can’t set your press. So we’ve just got to continue to plug away."


Tennessee will be tested by the SEC’s top scoring team tonight. Arkansas, which moved from No. 23 to No. 19 in this week’s Associated Press poll, is averaging 83.9 points a game and is second in the conference in field goal percentage (47.1).


Arkansas also leads the conference in steals, thriving off ball-handling mistakes. The Razorbacks forced Vanderbilt into 22 turnovers and converted them into 31 points last Saturday. The turnover total was a season high for the Commodores.


Anderson said Arkansas’ approach won’t change against Tennessee.


"We’re going to do what we do," Anderson said. "If we’re doing what we’re supposed to do it will cause some problems for Tennessee and whomever is out on the floor."


Anderson doesn’t expect an easy night against the Volunteers even though the Razorbacks had success in their SEC road opener at Georgia. Historically, Arkansas has had little success in Knoxville, Tenn. The Razorbacks are 2-10 and haven’t won in Thompson-Boling Arena since the 2006 season.


Richardson scored 10 points in Tennessee’s 81-74 win against the Razorbacks in Knoxville last season. Anderson said he’s capable of scoring much more and leading the Volunteers to a win if Arkansas isn’t prepared to play on the road tonight.


"He’s playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of freedom," Anderson said. "He’s the leader of that basketball team and so he ignites a lot of things for that team offensively as well as defensively. Josh is a kid I’ve known for awhile. He used to come to my camps when I was at Missouri. He’s a fierce competitor and I think his team feeds off of him."


TONIGHT’S TICKET


No. 19 Arkansas (13-2, 2-0 in SEC) at Tennessee (9-5, 1-1 in SEC)


When: 6 p.m.


Where: Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.


TV/Web: ESPNU


Radio: Razorback Sports Network


Series: Tennessee leads 18-14


Last Meeting: Tennessee 81, Arkansas 74 on 1/22/13


Coaches: Arkansas — Mike Anderson (72-41 in fourth season); Tennessee — Donnie Tyndall (9-5 in first season)


Projected Lineup: Arkansas — F Bobby Portis (6-11, So., 18.1 ppg), F Moses Kingsley (6-10, So., 5.4 ppg), G Michael Qualls (6-6, Jr., 15.8 ppg), G Ky Madden (6-5, Sr., 9.5 ppg), G Jabril Durham (6-1, Jr., 2.7 ppg); Tennessee — F Willie Carmichael III (6-8, Fr., 4.1 ppg), F Armani Moore (6-5, Jr., 8.9 ppg), F Devon Baulkman (6-5, Jr., 5.5 ppg), G Josh Richardson (6-6, Sr., 16.1 ppg), G Kevin Punter (6-4, Jr., 10.2 ppg)