TV: ESPN2 / ESPN3:
Gametracker: we just need to accept this, don't we?
WHEN WE LAST LEFT THESE TEAMS: Tennessee was busy sleepwalking for a half before laying down the hammer against Northwestern State in the second half. In the end, it was a comfortable 70-46 win. Three quick things about the game:
- Bad Meighan Simmons (4-15, 12 points) was out in force.
- Some of the dead zone first half was due to Northwestern State switching to a 2-3 zone and denying entry passes. That doesn't excuse the slow pace or the terrible shooting - the first half was also trying (and failing) to kill bunnies playing Oregon Trail - but it does explain it.
- Ariel Massengale's still flat out. At this point, she's probably done for the season.
St. John's, meanwhile, was busy persevering in a 28-26 foulfest against Southern Cal. They won the game, too - 71-68. Three quick things here:
- Five players ended the game not in foul trouble on both teams; four of those didn't even play 15 minutes.
- St. John's pretty much played the entire game inside the arc, going 2-8 from three.
- Aliyyah Handford and Amber Thompson were St. John's key players. Thompson got a 10/17 (!) while Handford got 27 points on 21 shots. Of note: she went 8-21 from the floor but 11-15 from the line.
So ....who are St. John's, anyway? They finished 2nd in the Big East (aka Where's UConn and not Why Is UConn Here - that's the AAC), but the Big East was ...not good. DePaul and St. John's were the only teams in the top 50 in RPI (okay, fine, Villanova was technically 50th)., although both teams won yesterday. Their best win: a two-point victory over Texas A&M at MSG. They've gone 1-0 against the RPI top 25 (see the previous sentence) and 4-3 against the RPI top 50. For comparison: Tennessee went 13-5 against the RPI Top 50 and 9-4 against the RPI top 25. St. John's hasn't played a team as good as Tennessee this year, and they've got some ugly road losses, including a 70-65 loss to RPI-259 Xavier.
They don't shoot from beyond the arc much and feature a drive/interior combo in Handford and Thompson. Danaejah Grant is their best outside threat (38%) but will probably play off the inside/outside combo. They're deep - seven players average at least 19 minutes/game. They play a little slow - 71 possessions/game - have slightly out-rebounded their opponents, and do a good job of forcing opponent turnovers.
They also haven't played as good a team as Tennessee. Remember this. How's Tennessee take that to their advantage?
- Most Similar Team: Texas A&M. It's not a clean match, but Handford's game reminds me of a not-as-good Courtney Walker. Walker and Courtney Williams both love penetration drives. Walker also has a perimeter shot; Handford hasn't hit a three all season. She hasn't even attempted one! Amber Thompson is a decent match with Achiri Ade; like Handford, she doesn't get to play with a Karla Gilbert comparable.
- Bust out the 2-3. I don't think St. John's can shoot from beyond the arc. Make ‘em. Heck, I don't even mind the 3-2 as a change-of-pace and I hate giving up the corners. Oddly, they're not even great free throw shooters; Briana Brown's over 80%, then it's a long slide to Keylantra Langley (72%) and Eugenia McPherson (70%). Solid, foul-free defense should be enough to keep St. John's in the 60s. Tennessee's played better teams that play a similar style as St. John's; St. John's has played Texas A&M. Tennessee's better than TAMU.
- CALM DOWN. If first half Tennessee shows up again, they'll be hard-pressed to go in tied. Fast but methodical is both totally reasonable and expected. Andraya Carter needs to help out with that; Jordan Reynolds has appeared to keep a good pace handle on things when she's needed to, but Carter's a combo guard at heart. This particular thing is a skill best handled by a pure point, but we've seen that thanks to Reynolds getting more PT (and more big minutes).
- Inside-Out. We've seen this before, but the high/low-post switching games played by Bashaara Graves, Isabelle Harrison, and - to an extent - Mercedes Russell - have been better about it. Their games are a bit different now. Harrison has the best shot selection basically camping in the post, Graves has drifted to the wings a bit, and Russell's a combination of the two. Offense should flow through them if they can (it'll depend on what St. John's does to stop entry passes), and if it doesn't? Leak to the corners.
Prediction: 83-64 Tennessee. Tennessee won't shoot 40% from the floor again, if only because Jasmine Jones won't get seven shots (and Simmons shouldn't get 15 if she's shooting like this). Patience, intelligence, and skill should be enough to get this done.
Lisa Mattingly Watch: For St. John's sake, I'm hoping low. Poor kids already played one foul-fest.
BONUS GAME TO KEEP IN THE BACKGROUND: Baylor plays Cal, tipping off at 9:15. Cal's good.