Hating Ohio State is a mission that all Tennessee fans can get behind.
Will summed it up nicely in the podcast on Wednesday, but Ohio State is a school that holds a special place in the hearts of Tennessee fans (and, really, SEC fans across the board) for reasons almost exclusively outside of women's basketball. Between the entitled runs to the national championship games in football, where Ohio State has served as the pedestal for the SEC's crystal football, the basketball games in the NCAA over the past few years, to the various interactions throughout recruiting and various NCAA-related issues, we are tied at the hip. Well, more like tied at the wrists with a knife in each hand, as in West Side Story. It's a feud that has escaped women's basketball to date, but the game on Saturday could very well change that. In just a few hours, you're going to find entirely new reasons to hate Ohio State as they stand in the way of another Lady Vols tournament run.
We took a look at the two teams on their own merits; let's put the pieces together and take closer look at the matchup itself.
* - OSU also had 7 team rebounds and 1 team turnover
The Georgia Tech game in the second round of the tournament illustrates Ohio State quite nicely. First and foremost, they are a five-player team with Amber Stokes rotating in only to give a quick breather to the guards (which is why she's grayed out in the table). Otherwise, the starters will play the entire game unless fouls dictate otherwise. Ohio State is quite simply the shallowest team that Tennessee will face this year.
That lack of depth dictates Ohio State's style of play, which is in a word - slow. They will not push tempo in transition and they will not press; they just can't afford to tire out their starters, so they take breathers on the court by winding down the shot clock and trying to keep the game in the halfcourt. The 42 total field goal attempts is a bit low for them, but their seasonal average is only 58. This cannot be overemphasized: Ohio State does. not. like. to run the floor.
On defense, Ohio State plays to not foul. Their defense is soft (not to be confused with bad) and they don't risk fouls when defending interior shots. Their two post players, Lavender and especially Adams, do not like to come out of the low post, which tends to leave the midrange jumper open off the pass. It's primarily a man defense, but one that sticks to a 2 low, 3 high look.
Of their 31 rebounds in their last game, only 24 were hauled in by players; the other 7 went out of bounds on Georgia Tech. Of those 24, only 7 rebounds came from the guards, who tend not to crash in for the boards. Also, only 5 rebounds were on the offensive glass, and 2 of those were out-of-bounds. Winning the rebounding battle means winning against Lavender and Adams - something that Tennessee should be able to do handily. There is always the concern of the 'tip-drill rebound', where the bigs simply bat the ball back in the air and let the guards go for it. That strategy has been reasonably effective against Tennessee, but I'm not sure that Ohio State's guards are physical enough to contend like that for an entire game, and it's not something they've done to this point
Scouting Jantel Lavender
Jantel Lavender has scored double figures in all 136 games of her career, has 76 double-doubles, and was the Big New Math Player of the Year four years in a row. How does she do it? Certainly not by dribbling. Lavender relies on scoring off the pass, primarily by a penetrating guard and secondarily by establishing position and getting the feed from the perimeter. She's a strong player who is hard to move, not a finesse player. She has some post moves but is far more effective when the dribble drive distracts the defense and doesn't get a lot of one-on-one space. I expect to see her matched up with Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh - two physical and more athletic posts who can deny the turnaround jumper and hopefully force her to put the ball on the floor.
Lavender absolutely thrives by screening for the driving guard, then drifting to the open space and waiting for the pass. That pass in traffic is a specialty of teammate Samantha Prahalis and is the centerpiece of the Ohio State offense. I will be very interested to see how Summitt decides to handle the driving guard while trying to keep the passing lanes shut down to both Lavender and Adams. Tennessee isn't the best team in the world at handling driving guards, and Marquette's Angel Robinson kept Monday's game close with the dribble drive. Angel is more athletic and a little quicker than Ohio State's Prahalis, however. But while we're speaking about Prahalis...
Samantha Prahalis - Love to Hate
Quick quiz: what do you find to be the most irritating thing in men's college basketball? Something that seems to happen every year. Start by thinking of teams that annoy you, then think of why you're annoyed (not including rivalry-based hate).
... /waits for it ...
Did you come up with Duke White Boy Flopstravaganza? Good! Ladies and gents, Samantha Prahalis.
I don't want you to think of Prahalis as a flopper, but she's very emotional on the court. She will disagree with calls (or a lack of calls), and you will see it on her face. This is especially likely on Saturday since referees have allowed a more physical brand of basketball throughout this tournament. She has to be careful not to let her emotional expressiveness become a liability, however, as she has risked technicals by letting her emotional moments get to her when talking to the officials. From the Georgia Tech game, note this sequence where a pushing foul is called on Prahalis while guarding on the perimeter (courtesy ESPN3):
A slight disagreement on the call.
Emotional and continued disagreement with yet another official.
Talk to the hand.
She's lucky the official was looking to the scorekeeper when she pulled that maneuver. It's the kind of emotional reaction you that doesn't bother you so much when it's from your own players but just absolutely drives you nuts when it's an opponent. Fair warning.
Getting back to what she does: Prahalis is a dribble drive guard who prefers to pass than shoot. She prefers to dribble with her right hand and usually starts her dribble drive from the left side of the perimeter and works toward the center, driving in off a screen. This gives her the option of passing to either Adams or Lavender, depending on how the defense collapses on her. On defense, Prahalis plays like many shorter people do - with hands going for the ball on the dribble. She can disrupt the dribble, particularly of players driving past her when she's guarding somebody else. She won't block shots, but low passes and dribbles are her domain.
(But yes, you'll see her hit the deck a lot. And substitute "petulant" for "emotional" everywhere in the above prose.)
HOW TO BEAT OHIO STATE
I still contend that the game is Tennessee's to win or lose, but here are a few things the Lady Vols can do to tilt the game in their favor.
Like I mentioned, Ohio State will play all starters for 40 minutes if they can. They absolutely do not take advantage of fast breaks on offense. Tennessee can force them to run when the Lady Vols get the ball in transition and absolutely should. If Ohio State chooses not to chase, then it's an easy bucket. If they do pursue, they will get tired. One team can play with an 11-deep rotation; the other has a 5-deep. Make it count.
Defend the ball screen.
Ohio State ball screens teams to death. The Tennessee defense must be prepared for it and deny the drive off the screen. Force Ohio State to find other means to shoot.
Ohio State does not like foul trouble. Keep the defenders up tight in the middle, and play hard in the offensive paint. the Buckeyes will often concede ground to avoid foul calls.
This is one team that can be outrebounded by sheer force of will. It's a part of the don't-fatigue-don't-foul style, but they usually do not crash the boards with their guards and leave rebounding to the two post players. Box them out and crash the boards.