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The Lady Vols are in Miami today to take on another ranked ACC team on their own turf. After the opening loss to Chattanooga, Tennessee rebounded with an impressive road win over then-ranked Georgia Tech, and now they face #23 Miami. Wonder guards Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams have graduated, but the Hurricanes still have plenty of talent, thanks to terrific efforts by coach Katie Meier to build the program into a perennially ranked team. The team will be led by three seniors: 6'-6" center Shawnice Wilson, who will be the first quality tower that Tennessee faces this year; 6'-1" senior forwrd Morgan Stroman, who leads the team with 6.5 rebounds per game this season; and 5'-8" guard Stefanie Yderstrom, the Swedish point guard who runs the offense in place of the graduated Shenise and Riquna combo.
Miami will learn a lot about themselves today as well. Their season started with a laugher against North Florida, which they followed up with a closer-than-they-wanted 69-63 win over Richmond on the road. Continuing Meier's tendency for high-paced play, they have had turnover issues (18 against North Florida and 24 against Richmond) but have caused a lot of turnovers on their own. Miami will likely try to press Tennessee into mistakes to gain transition points, and will likely be willing to risk a significant number of fouls to do so. But once they're in a halfcourt offense, Miami does not often look for the three-point shot and prefers to work inside. In response, Tennessee's guards will have to maintain ball control when bringing the ball up court, and the interior players will be called on to anchor the Lady Vol defense when Miami has the ball. We may see a significant amount of zone defense to deny entry passes and force Miami to attempt three point shots.
In three games of action so far, Tennessee has shown two characters. The nervous, low-energy team lost to Chattanooga. The confident, high-energy team ran Georgia Tech and Rice off the court. It's still too early to say definitively that the UT-C game was the fluke, but a solid win tonight would tip the needle very heavily in that direction.
Tennessee will likely start with Andraya Carter at the point, Meighan Simmons at the 2, Cierra Burdick at 3, Bashaara Graves at the 4, and Isabelle Harrison at the point. It's a combination that has worked well for Tennessee this year, and seems to be the starting rotation that we'll see for most of the year at this point. (It does remain to be seen, however, if Ariel Massengale regains the starting spot once she's back in full form.) All in all, the Lady Vols are much younger than Miami and will have to keep their youth from becoming a liability. Offensively, the guards are key; if Carter, Massengale, Simmons, and Williams can successfully bring the ball up court, Tennessee can work their halfcourt offense and put Miami at the disadvantage.
The first prediction of the year: Tennessee 83, Miami 67.