Missouri Aims for the Long Shot against Tennessee

Pictured: UT's height advantage in the interior. - Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Lady Vols host the Lady Tigers. The Other Lady Tigers. The Other Other Lady Tigers.

When preparing to write the pregame for an opponent I'm not particularly familiar with, my usual practice is to start by looking at the women's RPI. (66 as of this writing. Not bad.) Then I look at schedule. Mostly avoided bad losses, but a head-scratcher against Memphis and a blowout vs. Georgia. But hey, a surprise win vs. Auburn. Ok, let's peek at the box score against Auburn. Hmmm. Ok ... hey, what? 18 / 36 from beyond the arc. Well.

So yeah, Missouri is a three-point shooting team. On the year, they're already up to 444 attempts (160 makes for a 0.360 average). For perspective, Tennessee is up to 203 attempts this year, and had 568 all of last year. Against Auburn, Morgan Eye went 11 / 18 from beyond the arc including a game-deciding streak in the second half, breaking her own team record (which was eight).

But there's usually something else true about a three-happy team: they're pretty much all guards. This is the case with Missouri, and while they do have three forwards and two centers by roster definitions, one of those centers is out for the year, two forwards are among the least-used players on the team, and neither of the other two have managed to average 30 minutes a game. They average fewer than two post/forward players on the floor at any given point in time. Which is why they bomb threes all night long. Still, they rebound decently well for a team that lacks interior players, so it's not like they're completely giving up the paint. But man, that makes for a tall order against Tennessee.

The only upside for Missouri is that Tennessee has not played a team built like Missouri this year. Thanks in large part to a very tough nonconference schedule, the Lady Vols have always faced teams with respectable interior depth. This is not the case tonight, and Missouri has to hope that Tennessee doesn't maintain assignments well out on the perimeter.

For completeness, let's look at Missouri's interior. The center of note is 6'-1" senior Liz Smith. She won't win any foot races with Harrison or Graves, and the lack of height is going to be a problem when rebounding. She averages 6 points and 5 boards a night, but the points aren't a surprise when the team only shoots threes. The forward is 6'-1" junior Bri Kulas, a JUCO transfer. A third of her shots are from three (surprise!) but she does average 14 points and over 6 boards a game, and she seems to handle the ball more often than Liz.

Because of the three-point shooting, I would expect Tennessee to play man defense all night long, with perhaps a foray into that hybrid man-zone thing they used to do where Glory Johnson would defend point guards. (Can Bashaara do that? I really hope so.) Even if Missouri has some success getting the ball in, there's no way Tennessee sits in a "dare you to shoot a three" defense.

Morgan Eye is clearly the shooter to defend. Of her 155 shots, 137 have been from three and she hits 47% of them. Against Auburn, all eleven of her made threes came off the pass and she missed every shot she took when she was forced to dribble. Missouri will rotate and screen all shotclock long to get her an open pass, so Tennessee has to make her the priority, defend her at all times, and force other options.

Missouri also has difficulty bringing the ball forward against the press. Against Auburn's press, they tended to pass backwards away from the defenders and take up to half the shotclock bringing the ball into the halfcourt. (Remember, the women use a 30 second clock and no 10 second halfcourt violation.) Expect to see Tennessee press early and often to kill the clock and force Missouri to take hasty shots.

On offense, things are simple. The paint belongs to Tennessee; they need to own it. Missouri does not have the players to stop Harrison and Graves from being themselves, so the Tigers will play zone defense to try to keep the ball on the perimeter. Even if Tennessee gets hot from three, I don't think Missouri can switch to a man defense, so their hope is that the Lady Vols take hasty threes all night long.

Prediction: Tennessee 85, Missouri 45

Additional bonus prediction (from Chris): Tennessee 76, Missouri 57 - they'll hit a fair chunk of threes (Eye's shooting percentage is absurd), but they can and should be worn down. If Tennessee doesn't dominate both sides of the glass, I'll be surprised.

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