This is the first of a two-part series that briefly looks at the four teams in the Dayton region of the women's NCAA tournament. We'll start with Tennessee and Ohio State, then look at Notre Dame and Oklahoma. The intent is to have a quick snapshot of the teams so people can know what they should expect when they watch the games. This isn't a side-by-side comparison, just a glimpse at each team on its own merits.
#1 TENNESSEE LADY VOLS
It's a little odd explaining the Lady Vols to the home crowd, but completeness is in the details. Tennessee is noted for the size of the players and the depth of talent. The Lady Vols sport four post players who would take the majority of minutes at center on almost all other teams in the country: Kelley Cain, Vicki Baugh, Alyssia Brewer, and Glory Johnson. Each brings their own strengths, as Cain is the best blocker, Brewer the best ball handler, Johnson the most athletic, and Baugh the best balance of the three. If one is injured, the other three can shoulder the load, and when multiple are out on the floor at once, very few teams can handle their inside presence.
On the perimeter, the three-point shooting of Bjorklund, Simmons, Spani, Stricklen, and Manning (!) is the envy of every team in the nation. Even "fan favorites" Smallbone and Bass have good three-point range. With such a lethal outside perimeter, teams cannot simply double down on the posts and force the guards to take long shots all night long.
Defensively, Tennessee is best at the 2-3 zone and their "5" (or"man-switch") defenses that allow their team size and length to be an issue. Small, quick guards can find penetration against them in a man defense, but passing is very difficult against the Lady Vols. Over the last few games, Tennessee has made a living at forcing teams deep into the shotclock and taking shots out of necessity rather than preference.
Tennessee's weakness is their focus. Against Marquette, they shot out to an 8-0 lead more due to their offense than their defense. With the sudden lead, they appeared to relax a bit on the floor and Marquette eventually closed to a tie at 30-30. After a 12-point lead in the second half, they again allowed Marquette to close to a one-point game before Tennessee finally ran out in front for good. Could a team "rope-a-dope" Tennessee into a false sense of security? The answer is unknown to that question, but the possibility is greater than any Lady Vols fan would like. If Tennessee comes into a game with focus and determination, they're nearly unbeatable.
#4 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Ohio State is one of the few teams with as much team size as Tennessee, although it manifests itself differently. There are three 6'-4" or taller players on the roster, though one (Aleksandra Dobranic) is redshirting. Overall, eight Buckeyes are six feet or taller. However, Ohio State does not play as deep into the bench as Tennessee, with senior Jantel Lavender averaging 37.5 minutes per game and really only coming out when Ohio State is up by an insurmountable lead.
Speaking of Lavender: the start center averages 22.9 points/game and 10.9 rebounds/game and is easily the focal point of the team. She has 135 consecutive double-figure scoring games (hint: that's every single game of her career) and was the Big Tweleven player of the year four straight years. Yet for all her minutes, she only averages 1.7 fouls per game, so getting her in foul trouble is a bit of a pipe dream. The best ploy to stopping her is to not let the ball get to her in the first place.
It's hard to stop the ball from reaching her hands, however; coupled with Lavender's prolific scoring is the ball-handling of guard Samantha Prahalis, who is 3rd in the NCAA with 6.8 assists per game. The offense starts with Prahalis and ends with Lavender, so guarding those two is of utmost importance on any defensive stand.
The bench runs thin for Ohio State, however, with three players averaging over 33 minutes per game and six of their twelve players averaging fewer than 13 minutes per game. Lavender, Prahalis, and Hill will stay on the floor as long as possible, while starters Johnson and Adams will rotate with Sixth Buckeye Sarah Schulze. Because of the thin rotation, Ohio State prefers halfcourt play with a slower tempo and an emphasis on ball control. They have a 1.19 A/TO mark, which is among the best in the nation. Look for opposing fans to be frustrated at the lack of foul calls on the Buckeyes, as their emphasis on possession basketball tends to minimize the number of possessions and their time on defense.
Uptempo is Ohio State's Achilles' Heel. They are not built to run all game long, and getting the starters tired means the little-used bench becomes a factor. When faced with a team that can push the ball up and down the floor consistently, Ohio State struggles to keep pace.