TV/Online: No TV / UT Sports and Mickey
Radio: Get Off My Lawn
Last we left the Lady Vols, they were silently strolling to a 103-69 win over Troy. (You are forgiven if you opted for the more interesting men's game vs. Wichita State.) Of note in the Troy game: 28 UT turnovers (mostly unforced); 23 minutes by Burdick and Carter led the team; 74 rebounds (31 offensive - largely due to a lot of miss-putback-rinse/repeat sequences). Tennessee was just better than Troy, and with the end of finals, were happy to sleepwalk their way to 9-0.
Moving forward, they now line up against a team that is struggling even more than Troy. The Tigers are 3-7 on the season with wins over Troy (!), North Florida, and Martin Methodist College. Losses include Lipscomb, Jacksonville, and Kennessaw State. (You'll forgive Tennessee for this Bear Market stretch of their schedule; between finals and Stanford, it's a good time to have two such games. Better two than eight, at least.)
Looking at TSU:
- 6'0" junior Chelsea Hudson is the primary offense. She is contributing about 19 points/game this season with efficiency: 189 points on 131 shots, 50% from the field, 46% from three, and 60% from the free throw line (which sounds odd compared to the other two numbers). Add 7 boards/game and a reasonably modest turnover rate, and she's clearly the number one option. She'll also have never faced a defense like Tennessee, as Kansas State and Ole Miss are the toughest two teams she's seen to date.
- After Hudson, point guard Rachel Allen is the second threat. Allen scores about 12 points/game (115 points on 97 shots so far) at 43% from the field. Her 3.6 assists and 2.4 turnovers come in a team-leading 32 minutes per game. She's also the shortest player on the team (5'-5"), and I'd love to see Carter defend her.
- They aren't particularly good at free throws. 62% as a team is nothing to be too concerned about, and their top two scorers aren't helping matters (60% for Hudson, 62% for Allen). Of all players who have attempted at least 10 free throws this season, I'mani Davis is easily the best at ... 68%. (And on top of that, they really haven't had all that many free throws this year. About 23/game, which is unfortunately a low number.)
- They're effectively a 9-deep team. By that, I mean there are 9 players with 10+ minutes (Briana Morrow at 15.0 being the lowest of that bunch) and the next highest is LaTeasha Hill at 7.2 minutes. They do have 14 actively on the roster, which is in my opinion a bit more than manageable for a team, but it does mean they can foul all day long if they don't mind playing bench players.
- Eleven steals / game. They like to steal, which is a great thing for a Lady Vols team who like to give the ball away.
- Starting profile: In order of height, you have three at 6'-0": Chelsea Hudson, I'mani Davis, and Jayda Johnson. Given the number of threes that Hudson and Davis shoot, that likely leaves Jayda Johnson as the center. After those three, you have ... 5'-7" Brianna Lawrence? That shooting guard spot gets rotated, so it's hard to tell, but that also means there is no real standout at the 2. And of course the point is 5'-5" Rachel Allen, who I mentioned earlier. They're not a team built for inside play, so expect a lot of three point attempts on the night.
In short, it's the #314 RPI team coming into Knoxville to play the #1 RPI team. (Aside: it's amazing how much respect a good schedule gets you. /ahem) This isn't a game to worry about; if the Lady Vols muck it up, a loss here would be the least of their concerns. So... keys for the Ladies.
- A little more focus, please? Is it okay to point out that the Lady Vols could sleepwalk through this game as well? I hope so. That juggernaut that Tennessee demolished on Saturday is 224 in RPI; TSU is again 314. At best, they have 6'-2" and a couple at 6'-0" on the floor while Tennessee rotates a national forest in the paint. But with all that, finals are out of the way and it's time for Tennessee to play with a little more energy than three days ago.
- Cut down the turnovers. The A/TO this year is basically 1 (164/163). Would it kill the gals to take better care of the ball? Fewer circus passes and less dribbling by the posts in halfcourt would cure a lot of the unforced turnovers.
- Work on efficiency. Warlick has made some roster adjustments to cut down the low-percentage shots, especially moving Burdick to a backup role with Russell. If Cierra and Meighan can continue to find better shot selections, their inconsistencies should largely dry up. After that, there is a tendency for posts to take midrange shots from the baseline. While those shots make tactical sense because they're wide open, there's a reason they're so wide open - they're horrible shots to be taking if you don't have to.
- Expanding on this, via Chris: I think the Burdick-for-Carter swap was done for a couple of reasons: Burdick's offensive game wasn't needed in the starting five and Carter's a fantastic glue player. If Burdick's game is on, you can run offense through her. If the Burdick-Russell combination can find some chemistry, so much the better. (And I'd rather both of them take shots over Jasmine Jones, who tends to be everywhere but with a worse natural stroke than either.) It's also refreshing to see someone over 6'4" not serve as the complete focal point for a team four years running, but I reserve the right to change my mind on this if TSU is the toughest opponent on the Lady Vols' schedule in 2018 (after we bail on our scheduled game with, oh, Iowa State or some other good Big 12 team). But if that happened I'm sure Tennessee's RPI wouldn't be hovering around 50 or anything like that, so it's an academic exercise only, I think.
- Fine-tune the defense to the new rules. They did better with the defensive rules on Saturday, but TSU will be a perfect opponent to work on this. The Tigers shoot a lot of threes, so zone defense isn't particularly helpful. Tonight is a good night to play man defense and continue to adjust to the foul calls.
Prediction: Blowout. 102 - 64.
Behind-the-back, no-look pass attempts by Simmons: 2. /sigh