21-12 (8-10 Big East)
26-8 (12-4 SEC)
It's tempting to look at Kansas as an eleven seed and think that Tennessee has a virtual pass to the Elite Eight, but Kansas is deserving of more respect. They had a tough run in Big 12 conference play after they lost Carolyn Davis for the season. The veteran post player had been their leading scorer, and prior to her injury the Jayhawks were well on pace to be a much higher seed than eleven. However, they have picked up their game lately and they do have some nice pieces that fully explain a tournament run that includes solid victories over six seed Nebraska (with a strong post presence) and three seed Delaware (with Elena Delle Donne, who needs no more explanation). In just a second, a look at the roster will bear out what kind of competition they will be, and what Tennessee needs to do to advance.
But Tennessee, of all teams, knows what makes for a winning team in the Sweet Sixteen. The offense may have up and down days, but the last few weeks have featured a stifling, energetic defense that is reminiscent of some of the better Tennessee years of past. Tennessee will clearly hang their hat on their defense to keep Kansas from scoring much, and will work hard to outrebound Kansas on both ends. If the past couple weeks are an indication, the offense may only need to score 60 points to advance.
But let's look at that Kansas roster:
Kansas begins and ends with Angel Goodrich. With the loss of Carolyn Davis for the year, Angel is Kansas's leading scorer and is on a blistering 7+ assist per game pace. That, coupled with a low turnover rate has her A/TO at 2.1 - one of the highest marks in the country. She is 43% from the floor and 38% from three and can shoot from pretty much anywhere on the floor.
After Angel, Aishah is the normal benefactor of Angel's assists and is the second leading scorer, trailing Angel by a whopping one point on the entire season. But she is set up by Angel (as is the rest of the team), which gets back to the focal point of the game: does Angel crack the Tennessee defense, or will Tennessee shut her down? If Tennessee wins this battle, it will be almost impossible for Kansas to win.
There are a couple of options. First, our best defender is Glory Johnson and has been given the assignment for key guards before. If Tennessee plays man against Kansas (to assist in rebounding and to defend the three), then we may see Glory defending out on the perimeter with Baugh and Stricklen getting the rebounding assignments. If Tennessee instead opts to shut down the passing from Angel, the zone defense will allow her to try the three but can be effective at shutting down the rest of the team.
On offense, Tennessee has their usual advantage in the interior. Kansas will be very hard pressed to guard both Glory and Vicki, and needs to make every effort to keep the ball from being passed inside. They will likely apply a zone to guard against the passes, meaning that the long shooters like Shekinna and Meighan will have early opportunities to make a statement and force Kansas to extend their defense outward.
In short, it's the usual dilemma for a Tennessee game: the Lady Vols must win the interior on both ends, and Kansas must create opportunities for their best shooter.
Prediction: 74 - 58 Tennessee. The defense has been iron solid lately. That won't change.