The Ladies Return

That'll leave a mark. - USA TODAY Sports

The Lady Vols' basketball season begins tonight with an exhibition game at 7 PM against Carson-Newman.

Time: 7 PM Eastern

Stats: GameTracker

Internet Radio: MickeyPhonic

Internet Video: UTSports

The beginning of November is always an interesting time around here. Football is in full swing, and the annual run of October games against Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina (ed: and Mizzou, apparently) dominates the headlines. But as soon as they pass, basketball season quietly begins, and both the men's and women's teams are on the court with almost no warning.

Almost.

Tonight, the Lady Vols host Carson-Newman in the annual exhibition game the two teams always play. This year, this game is the only such exhibition for the Lady Vols before the season starts in earnest against MTSU in Murfreesboro. To help prepare for the season, here are a few quick notes on the Lady Vols:

  • Meighan Simmons is the only senior. She was more patient and more into team play last year, which was a huge step forward for the girl who learned to be the sole superstar in high school. If she can keep her edge and minimize the low-percentage chances she takes (ed. note: HAHAHAHAHAHA), she will be the best speed option on a team that will likely look to outrun opponents. And by putting her bullet point first, I just guaranteed that she'll take ALL. THE. RUNNERS. tonight. You're welcome.
  • (ed note: Meighan Simmons is the second bullet point in this handout I got from the press as well as the first.)
  • Guard depth will be short, again. Ariel Massengale is the only true point guard, though Andraya Carter has proven to be a very good option when healthy. But other than those two and Simmons, the only other guard is incoming freshman Jordan Reynolds. Jannah Tucker may be available in the spring but has been dealing with far more important issues.
  • Three-point shooting is a question mark. There's Simmons, who is hot and cold. Then there's Massnegale, who is actually pretty good from three but doesn't take a ton of shots. Carter is also solid, but none of the guards are of the sharpshooter mold of Taber Spani or 3jorklund. It's a shame, because a deadly three-point threat would open up the middle of the floor for the real strength of the team...
  • The interior will break opponents. The forwards and centers on this team have the potential to be something truly special. The big headline is freshman Mercedes Russell, who lists at 6'-6" and won approximately all the national high school awards last year. She may need to develop more speed to keep from slowing down the transition game the Lady Vols love, but she projects to develop well into a powerful, athletic center that will outmatch all but a few opponents. She'll be competing for playing time with Isabelle Harrison, who was a blocking phenom last year. Where most centers make their name by being immovable objects, these two can play from the top of the key, forcing the defense to open up and allow lanes for the guards to penetrate.
  • Forwards are a bit thin in depth, but long in talent. Cierra Burdick is no longer the gangly mess of limbs that she was her freshman year, and her midrange shots are absolutely beautiful. She's also a grinder on defense and is probably the true emotional heart of this team. Bashaara Graves is the blue collar powerhouse and is set to rival Glory Johnson for impact as a power forward. Of the three forwards, Jasmine Jones is the best natural athlete, and if she can develop her instincts to match her skillset, she'll be able to turn games on their head. But other than those three, there is no other option at forward. Harrison can play power forward with Russell at center, but that can only happen if Nia Moore is ready for a true backup role and regular rotation time. All in all, this team has only ten scholarship players. For a team that loves to run, depth and health will be vital issues.
  • BassWatch! Just kidding. She graduated. Sorry.
  • Kim Mulkey has taken her ball and gone home. It's worth one more reminder that everybody's favorite lame coat has decided that, without Griner, the Lady Bears have no desire to play the Lady Vols.

Tonight, we're looking for two things: how well conditioned are all the players, and how do the freshmen look? This team has the potential for the Final Four but will absolutely need starter-quality play from the youngest Ladies to make it happen. They'll out-talent Carson-Newman, but how well do they play as a part of the team? That will be the big question on the night.

A short note from Chris: So yeah, this is an exhibition game, but - how do we put this tactfully? - Tennessee's gonna play a double handful of these games this season. Some will even be against conference opponents. Come for the fact that we actually have women's basketball again (let's not forget that this team opened last season as a series of question marks, picked 5th in the SEC, and still made the Elite Eight), stay for the interior game, threaten to leave after Simmons takes 5-10 ill-advised shots and makes three of them, stick around for Mickey complaining about the officiating with 10 minutes to go in the game.

We're back.

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