* - Subject to blackout
And so it begins. Pepperdine was tabbed to finish 3rd in the West Coast Conference and is very top-loaded with juniors and seniors. The Waves hope their experience will bring composure and cohesiveness in the season opener for both teams. A speculative starting lineup and some brief comments follow after the jump.
Note: stats are of last year's games.
Pepperdine's roster includes 4 seniors, 4 juniors, 3 sophomores, and 4 freshmen. While I generally believe that rosters of 15 are too unwieldy for efficient coaching, the sheer number of players gives Pepperdine the opportunity to rotate and protect their best players from foul trouble, even if playing true freshmen in a road game against Tennessee is not a recipe for success.
As with most games, it is not disrespectful to assume that Tennessee should win. Rather than as how a win might be accomplished, here are a few questions that the Lady Vols have the opportunity to answer:
- How cohesive is team play on offense? If you look at the assists column above, you'll note the disheartening numbers. Tennessee just didn't get many assists last year and relied on individual talent for much of their offense. That's fine when you overmatch the opponent, but it's not so fine when highly talented and more cohesive teams come to play. This team needs to get used to assists, and that will start with Ariel.
- How good is the press, really? The press destroyed Union in the second exhibition game, but it was also clear that Union just wasn't ready to deal with a press. Pepperdine might not be Stanford, but having so much experience on the team will be a huge help against the press. We'll have a much better idea of the Lady Vols' pressure after today.
- Do they value the paint? One criticism of last year was the reliance on three-point shooting (which they did do very well). With Cain and Brewer gone, and Harrison a new face, can this team find more production from the paint? With Ariel (and without Bjorklund), the guard play will be less reliant on the three this year; the posts and forwards need to fill the void.
- My kingdom for the first free throw! Last year's team had a hilarious tendency to miss the first free throw and make the second, almost as if they had to dial in their charity shots. With Bjorklund's touch gone, the team will need everybody to improve their free throw percentages. They're "free" throws; make 'em count.
Tennessee 87, Pepperdine 52