TV: not happening - this is happening at a high school gym
Radio: Mickey? yeah, Mickey
Gametracker: if this is still text then the answer is no
Another tournament, another game against a team receiving votes. This time, it's the Junkaroo Jam - no, we didn't come up with the name - playing in the Lucaya Division (again, not our name) against Virginia. There's nobody else in the division. I don't know why they don't call this game the semifinal.
Virigina's 3-2 on the season, losing to James Madison and West Virginia. Those of you who remember the slow-the-heck-down, race-to-50 game from a couple years ago and how frustrating that game was probably want to avoid this game; aside from a 95-82 win over Louisiana Tech, teams in games involving Virginia have topped 70 once.
G Faith Randolph has struggled - 12.4 ppg on 11.4 shots, but with some horrendous shooting percentages (33% from the floor, 18% from deep) boosted by getting to the line a lot. (While we're here, I see you, G Kelsey Wolfe, and your 6.2 ppg on 8.4 shots.) F Sarah Imovboih is the efficient scorer of the lot, getting 11 ppg on 7.4 shots and 5.8 FTA per game so far. Fortunately, Imovboih and Randolph are the only people who get to the line at all on this squad.
This team doesn't seem to rebound a ton - again, Imovboih is the person to watch - but Randolph and Wolfe are both strong ball handlers, notching over 3 assists/game with an A/TO over 1. There's height, kinda - Imovboih and Sarah Beth Barnette are both 6'2", but once again, Tennessee's going to have an advantage there.
Expect a health dose of zone against a team who wants to keep Tennessee under 60. Since that lackluster MTSU game, Tennessee hasn't scored less than 80 points. How do they get by this one?
- Loosen up on the zone on the outside. Ariel Massengale's had a strong season, but here's the funny thing: her percentages aren't that out of line, save being daggers from beyond the arc. She's just shooting more - 6.3 attempts/game her first two years to 9.4 attempts/game this year. Her assists are up, too - 4.7/game her first two years to 5.6/game. Secondary shooters - think Andraya Carter and Jordan Reynolds - are benefiting from the strong interior game. They'll need to repeat that today, since the looks should be there. Oh - Massengale's shooting 4.8 FTA per game compared to 2.5 FTA her first two years. That's a huge difference.
- Oh, right, that other outside shooter. Yeah, I see you, Meighan Simmons. It's critical that our very own inefficient shooter takes the looks she can get, especially from the perimeter - let's not talk about her percentages on the year; they're bad - since a consistent secondary threat beyond the arc is necessary. Her slash-and-kick game will come back as her confidence comes back. She needs to take - and, yes, hit - the open looks she gets. The interior game is that good (and, quite frankly, until teams get the memo that Massengale is having a Leap Year, Simmons' presence alone will help keep defenders off).
- The interior destruction game. I'm still working out everyone's roles - I think Bashaara Graves is the offensive rebounder / putback tour de force while Isabelle Harrison crashes the defensive boards, takes shots offered to her, and spaces. Cierra Burdick is crashing the defensive glass (and shooting horribly) and Mercedes Russell is getting her (efficient) sea legs under her. There are about 12 sub-points here, but it looks like everyone has defined roles and - so far - are playing them. (I don't like Graves' efficiency - 12.2 ppg on 10.4 shots from a post is not good - but a lot of that appears to be shot / get the miss / put it up. It's not great, but it's a little better than it looks.)
- Yeah, we're expanding this. How the interior rotation shakes out will basically define the season. Graves at this point appears to be the dirty work person - her per-40 numbers, it should be noted, are great, including 9.8(!) offensive boards / 40 - who sticks within 7 feet of the rim at all times. Harrison has a close-to-mid range game, which seems to fit in well spacing-wise. Russell's game is a bit of a catch-all - she's flashed all tools and seems to be getting second-unit minutes so far, leaving Burdick for the dirty defensive work and a true mid-range game. The casualties of this? Harrison's not getting consistent post work and Burdick's stuck with bad shots. Burdick in particular needs to be careful here; Virginia should let her take that mid-range shot all day long.
Ultimately, I don't see a way Virginia holds all the offensive options down. Right now, there are three people I don't want putting up shots - Burdick (who needs to get out of the midrange game), Jasmine Jones (who's had some horrid shot choices this season; she needs to run laps every time she passes up a three to shoot an 18-footer), and Simmons. Oddly, I feel pretty good about Simmons getting back to the 1.1-1.2 points/shot she was at the last couple years (let alone a 1.3-1.4 points/shot, which would be incredible growth).
And yes, taking too many midrange shots is the only hole this team has shown so far. I know that the team's missed about a half a game, but that's in no small part due to the midrange game. This team is scarily good. Fix that midrange game and this team can take anyone in the country.
Prediction: 77-63 Tennessee, including some 16-3 type run to salt it after a lackluster first half.
Empty Bench Watch: yeah, probably. Nia Moora has been productive; it helps when the last person off the bench can still contribute solid minutes.
Note: I'll probably miss this game, so don't expect a postgame unfortunately.