Lady Vols vs. Southern Methodist at 8 PM Eastern

Pictured: median Lady Vol Height. Also: Maximum SMU height. - Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

In which we preview a game nobody can see against an opponent nobody knows anything about.

TV: nope

Stats: Maybe?

Mickey: Of Course

So Southern Methodist earned the right to play Tennessee in the finals of the Scoobydoo Scram by beating a not-very-good Kansas State team by a final score of 68-57, powered mostly by KSU's ineptness on offense. The Mustangs are undefeated on the season, with the only real competition to date coming from TCU (72-68 win in overtime). Other than TCU and KSU, SMU has faced a real murderee's row: Grambling, Eastern Washington, Mississippi Valley State, Stephen F. Austin, and Lamar. They like a faster pace of game play, which should at least make things entertaining this evening.

What should we expect from Southern Methodist, exactly? As with most minor teams in women's basketball, it's a bit tricky to dig out information beyond the stat sheets, and it's tough to interpret it when it comes against so many teams you never knew existed. And when a season's stat sheet consists of a single page, the preview can get a little ... creative. So here we go:

  • SMU is not deep. They have nine players. Well, the roster suggests twelve, but they've only played nine all season long and are only dressing nine this weekend. It is a legit rotation of nine, however, as the lowest minute average is still 12 minutes a game (Johnson and Short).
  • SMU is not tall. They do have two 6'-2" gals, but one has not played and the other is a 16-minute-a-game backup. They have two 6'0" girls who start (Hives-McCray and Simpson; more in a bit), but the rest are below 72 inches.
  • SMU has a lot of transfer players. Mays is from Kansas University, Kamy Cole from TCU, Morgan Bolton is from Arkansas-Little Rock, and Brittney Hardy is from Oklahoma State. The final three are the three who have not played this year - Cole and Bolton are still sitting out due to the transfer, and Hardy's lack of playing time is for reasons unknown to me.
  • SMU is relatively efficient on offense. Going the advanced stats route, their points per possession is 1.04 - well above the national average of 0.89. Their free throw production (FTM/FGA) is also high - 28.6 compared to the national 24.2). But again, it's tough to gauge that given their competition.
  • SMU is bad on defense. And here's where their competition makes the stats even worse. Their points allowed per possession is right on the national average and they're basically allowing the national average of points. In short, it's in their interest to try to win a shootout rather than to keep things buttoned down.
  • Players to watch: Keena Mays leads the scoring column with 19 points per game while averaging 30 min/game. Mays is 39% from the field, 39% from three (where she took half her shots), and 82% from the line. She also leads in assists (~5/game), so she's kind of important to that offense.
    After Mays, Akil Simpson leads in rebounds (8.1/game) and points (13.6/game). She's the primary interior threat, which makes for a good time to remind you that she is only 6'-0" and likely has not seen height like Tennessee this year. Of note: Akil Simpson did not play in the second half against KSU yesterday, though it's not explained in any writeup I have seen as of this writing. (I will assume she plays for the sake of this preview, though.)
    Destynee Hives-McCray - the other 6'-0" starter - averages 12 points and 8 rebounds per game. These three account for most of SMU's production at the rim.
    SMU is actually pretty decent in the interior, given their relative lack of size (again, note the competition). 6'-2" Mallory Singleton, the tallest player, provides 17 minutes/game and a fair number of shots (including 2/7 from three). But Simpson and Hives-McCray are the real interior engine. The two are good for 25 points/game, 6 blocks/game, and 16 rebounds/game combined. Again, competition. But they'll be worth watching in the opening minutes, at least.
  • This is a relatively disciplined team on offense. Again, within context of opponents, but they have an A/TO of about 1.33 (repeating, of course), which is a far sight better than Tennessee's right now (1.0, exactly). Mays is the key contributor here, but Korina Baker averages 4 assists per game as well.
  • SMU is relatively stable over 40 minutes. In yesterday's action in the Cockapoo Cam, they jumped out on KSU early and never really let the game get close. If Tennessee plays flat in yet another first half, don't be surprised to see SMU take advantage.

Stylistically, I don't have much information for you. They feel like a team that likes to run zone defense (17.5 fouls / game, which is low this year, and a third of their opponents' shots are from three). On offense, they draw a lot of fouls which may in small part be a function of opponents trying to catch up in the endgame, but it also suggests a fair amount of motion that draws the hand check calls. At any rate, they make a living at the free throw line.

Focus points for Tennessee:

  • How about, you know, playing the first half? SMU is a team that can only win if UT lets them - kind of like how UT let Virginia control the first half yesterday. So let's not do that again, m'kay?
  • Keep getting good looks for Burdick and Simmons. Though Simmons was the standout, both girls were much better on offense yesterday (32 points on 20 shots (!) for Simmons, and 10 on 8 for Burdick). A large part of that was putting them in good positions on the floor when they had the ball. Another solid game from them could go a long way to restoring their confidence and stabilizing them for the year.
  • Exploit the height advantage. This is particularly true on offense, as SMU is comfortable shooting from three, but Tennessee has a very significant height advantage. The lob passes should be there, allowing for close-in shots. Likewise, there is no reason for Tennessee to let SMU hang around with them on the glass. A +10 or better rebounding margin is the expectation here.
  • Tone down the first half fouls. We'll repeat this comment next game, I'm sure. I'm actually in favor of trying some fullcourt pressure to help here. If SMU breaks it, they likely take quick shots before Tennessee can be called for fouls in the halfcourt. And if they don't, the 10 second clock may give a few free possessions to the Lady Vols.
  • Run up their fouls. The three 6-foot-and-up girls on SMU are all somewhat foul prone. Placing just one of them on the bench in foul trouble could effectively ensure that some 6'-3"-on-5"-10" mismatches happen inside. 6'-2" Mallory Singleton is particularly susceptible, which could mean that SMU has to place a 6'-0" player on Mercedes Russell.
  • Control the ball. SMU's best chance at winning only happens if Tennessee is charitable with the ball. Turnovers would buy the extra possessions needed to counter UT's inevitable rebounding advantage, so let's not let that happen.

After saying all that, it's really quite simple: Tennessee wins the Bugaboo Bam unless they give the game away. Despite the rules changes favoring perimeter shots, Tennessee's interior edge alone is sufficient. With the (hopeful) re-establishment of Simmons and Massengale's Leap Year, SMU won't be able to cover half of Tennessee's options on the floor.

Prediction: Let's go with 81 - 67. SMU will hit enough threes and free throws to keep it close-ish, but won't be able to keep up, and Tennessee takes the title in the Toodle-oo Tram.

Light Switch Watch: I'm guessing that they figure out the power supply problems and won't have to restart the gym lights after a midgame power outage.

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