Tennessee vs. Ohio Preview

Here's what the Bobcats shot yesterday in their 97-83 upset of 3 seed Georgetown: 

  • 32 of 55 FG (58.2%) - 13 of 23 3PT (56.5%) - 20 of 26 FT (70.6%)

Now, if they do that again on Saturday (around 3:45 PM EDT following the Villanova/St. Mary's game), we're going home and so is everyone else they play.  But when you look at their numbers for the year, you see pretty quickly that they're a very good shooting team on most nights:  43.1% from the floor, 36.6% from three, 72.5% at the stripe, all good for 74.9 points per game.  We only best them in overall FG%, shooting 45.1% on average (but doing it in a much different way).

The bad news for Ohio is that they beat the team ranked 15th in the coaches' poll in the first round, only to turn around and face the team ranked 14th in the second round.  And the good news for us is that nothing bothers a shooter like length, and unlike Georgetown, ours will actually play defense.

If you watched the game yesterday, you noticed two players right away:  Armon Bassett, who hit five threes and scored 30 points (while playing all 40 minutes), and point guard D.J. Cooper, who added 23 points and 8 assists, and really made their offense go.  Cooper is 5'11", Bassett is 6'2".  Prepare to notice a trend:

PG

D.J. Cooper

5'11"

6'3"

Bobby Maze

SG

Armon Bassett

6'2"

6'7"

Scotty Hopson

SF

Tommie Freeman

6'5"

6'7"

J.P. Prince

PF

DeVaughn Washington

6'8"

6'9"

Wayne Chism

C

Kenneth van Kempen

6'10"

6'10"

Brian Williams

 

Tennessee's perimeter defense has been good all season, and the Vols are well versed in both man and zone.  But the individual matchups in this one give the Vols a huge advantage in size all over the floor:  not only are the Vol guards almost a combined foot taller than Ohio's, but the Vol bigs outweigh Ohio's by more than fifty pounds.  On paper, this is a game Tennessee should dominate.  I know that's what Georgetown thought too...but we're going to be more ready for what Ohio will throw at us, and bring a much better defensive pedigree to the table.

It's Tommie Freeman who's not only the team's best three point shooter, but one of the best in the nation:  87 of 184, 47.3%.  Bassett shoots 35.1% from the arc and leads the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game, and again, it's Cooper who makes them go:  13.4 points and 5.9 assists per game, though only a 31.6% shooter from three.  DeVaughn Washington is a double-double threat - he had one yesterday - and can take advantage if the Vols show more than the appropriate level of aggressiveness on the perimeter.

This team will get to the free throw line, averaging more than 23 attempts per game.  Tennessee can't overplay the outside shot so much that they give up an easy path to the basket, something else Georgetown struggled with.  If the Vols play solid defense, and can bother Ohio's shooters without fouling or sacrificing the paint presence, we should be fine.

The body of work for Ohio isn't spectacular:  they're 22-14, 7-9 in the MAC, but have now won six straight, including the MAC Tournament title.  They were fearless against the Hoyas, and I'd expect more of the same against the Vols.  But Tennessee has been excellent against teams that love to shoot the three (Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss), and have an even bigger advantage in talent here.

On the other end of the floor, the Vols must stay disciplined.  When one team is shooting and shooting especially well, sometimes it encourages the other to try and match it on the other end.  We shot 8 of 17 from beyond the arc against SDSU - that's 47.1%, sixteen percentage points above our season average.  If we keep shooting that percentage, great.  But the number of attempts needs to stay right where it is, and the Vols need to keep attacking the basket.  Against this team, that's especially true in the post:  guards (including Prince) got 49 of our 62 points against SDSU.  On Saturday, it's time for the post players to return the favor.  If Wayne Chism wants NBA scouts to notice him, this is his very best opportunity.  He needs to dominate.

We can't expect four threes from Melvin Goins, and we can't waste time trying to find the next hot hand.  We have the advantage in size and post play, and that's where we need to go.  On defense, harass the shooters on the perimeter, don't put them on the line, and don't go to sleep on the backdoor stuff.

Tennessee and San Diego State were very even, on paper and in style, and we played that way:  a deliberate halfcourt game that came down to the final minute.  Tennessee and Ohio are not very even, on paper nor in style.  If Ohio wants to shoot all day, we don't need to follow suit.  The game can still become a higher-scoring affair, but Tennessee's points should come from the paint. 

If we play defense the way we've played defense all year, we're going to win and advance.  Ohio caught Georgetown off guard and shot lights out.  Now they're going to catch a Tennessee team that's ready for them, who will do a much better job on the defensive end.  Length bothers shooters:  Tennessee's very best team in 2008 got blown out by Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen, because they put bigger bodies on Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith in an extended 2-3 zone, and never allowed them a good look.  Whether we go to an extended zone or play man-to-man, Pearl will have us ready - bother the shooters, bother Ohio, and take advantage of the mismatch in the paint.

We're 40 minutes away from the second weekend of the tournament.  Full speed ahead.

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