TV: SECTV / ESPN3
Gametracker: road games are just the worst
When we last left Columbia, Missouri, Morgan Eye went something like 18-for-34 from beyond the arc as Missouri - who still lives and dies from beyond the arc - broke out to a surprising win. This year, it's mostly the same story except we know about it. Tennessee's had issues dealing with corner threes this year (and since Eye is shooting 44% from beyond the arc this year, that's paramount), which is somewhat to be expected if we see a healthy dose of 1-3-1 and 3-2 zone again.
This year's Missouri squad isn't much different than last year's. he good news - such as it is - is that Bri Kulas is the only other player worth noticing. Of course, she's 6'1", shoots 42% from deep, and gets 1.15 points per weighted shot. (Eye, for the record, is that 1.26 points per weighted shot, a sign that defenses are keying stronger on her.)
Other than that, the whole squad - Sierra Mechelis and her 4.2 ppg excepted - is at less than 1.1 points per weighted shot, which just means volume shooting is the only way anyone's likely going to do damage. Jordan Frericks can rebound but doesn't shoot as well as you'd like for a wing, Lianna Doty will distribute (1.7 A/TO) but not shoot (TrueFG% of 45.9%, which is bad), and Kayla McDowell - who anchors the interior - is a freshman.
Against Missouri, perimeter and wing defense is crucial. (Note: under no circumstances is this a reason to put Jasmine Jones at the 2 short of insane foul trouble. Her efficiency ratings are in Jordan Reynolds and Nia Moore land; I don't care how good her defense is, she's nothing beyond minutes right now, and the 2.4 turnovers/game is a walking liability.) Andraya Carter needs to stay out of foul trouble since we still have no ETA on when Massengale's going to come back - today would be great, but she may be benched until March at this point for precautionary measures - and Cierra Burdick is going to need to do a job on Bri Kulas.
So how's Tennessee going to get past a tricky Tigers squad?
- Lock down the corners. This is up above but is worth repeating: for a Missouri squad that will likely lose the interior battle, they'll need to hit threes to stay competitive. Corner threes are the best option beyond the arc in general; that, Eye and Kulas average 12.3 3-point attempts per game combined. Keep them out of the corners (on the wings would be ideal, but out of the corners is fine) and they'll be forced into lower-percentage shots. I don't expect them to stop launching from beyond the arc, but I'd rather they launch from lower-percentage spots.
- Go after Kulas defensively. She's going to likely spot up at the 4, which puts her up against Isabelle Harrison at the top of the key - or, even better, Bashaara Graves down low. Make her work on defense and she'll likely need a few possessions off on the other side of the court. Secondary bonus: Missouri's interior shouldn't scare the Lady Vols at all. Burdick may be able to make some hay here as well.
- Simmons back? After a horrendous early season, Simmons' basic percentages - 44% from the floor,, 37% from beyond the arc, 82% from the line - are now better than her performances in prior years. No mean feat, that. Then again, she's also on pace for her most turnovers since her freshman year, so it's not all roses. Still, she needs to not get into a three-point contest with either Eye or Kulas; they're both better than her from beyond the arc.
- Burdick actually back. Cierra Burdick's round into form comes at a great time for Tennessee; she's going to be the key on both sides today since Kulas' game scares me a bit more than Eye's. She's an offensive option against Kulas now - otherwise, there'd be some weird 3/4 offense-defense rotations - and will likely draw Kulas in man-to-man situations since she's a better perimeter defender than any other option (who isn't an utter drain otherwise; put your hand down, Jones).
- The regulars. The only downside - literally the only one - of a strong interior rotation are minutes getting squeezed. Graves has improved marginally with fewer minutes, but she's sacrificed a bit to Harrison (no problems) and Mercedes Russell (again, no problems). This crew plus Buridck's move back to the post has resulted in lots of interior minutes with a minor dropoff, but at the cost of everyone else's numbers. On the perimeter, Carter's done a great job stepping into Massengale's minutes - and the experience for Reynolds is a good thing going into next year - so there isn't as much of a dropoff as you'd expect. WIth that being said, Massengale's play absolutely warrants her getting her spot back as soon as she can; Carter doesn't shoot enough to really be an offensive threat, nor does she stretch defenses with drives like Massengale does. She's a better shooter than Massengale in a vacuum, but Massengale's a better scorer right now.
Prediction: Tennessee 78-63. One of Kulas or Eye gets shut down, and my bet is Kulas.
Lisa Mattingly Watch:
tbd [see below - Hooper]. While we're here, a belated shout-out to Dee Kantner for her work against Auburn; it's no easy feat to call eight fouls on a team in a four-minute stretch, but the eight fouls her squad called against Auburn from the under-16 to the under-12 on Thursday was true yeoman's work. Not that Tennessee really needed the Mulkey Treatment against a bad opponent, but it was nice.
[Hooper - ed.] So Mattingly was in Iowa State for an 8 PM (Eastern) tipoff last night, meaning her arrival in Columbia is possible, but somewhat unlikely given the the timing. If you see her at the game tonight, you know the NCAA reads our work and hates us (or at least it reads well that way). But since we're freely napalming any NCAA bridge that may theoretically exist here, I'll go ahead and note that Metta Roberts was in San Antonio for a late tipoff last night as well, meaning her appearance is even less likely. In short, we may actually have a basketball game today.
[Hooper - ed. 2.0] So Mattingly called 25 fouls on Texas to 9 on Iowa State. Iowa State won by 17 points, having made 26 more free throws than Texas (30-35 vs. 4-9), and a FT rate percentage differential of +46.1%.. If you ever need to know the definition of a Mattingly win, this may very well be the archetype.