Troy is the third opponent Tennessee's played who isn't receiving a vote in either poll. That's a nice way of saying while Tennessee's schedule has been light on ranked teams, it hasn't been light on good teams.
Troy won't go in either of those buckets, for the record. That woman (look, okay, it's weird, let's just roll with it) named Troy is 4-4 on the season playing a schedule fit only for the Baylors of the world. Their toughest opponent so far? Florida, who beat them by 30. Their weakest opponent, I guess, is Alabama-Huntsville, who they beat by 15. In both of those games, their opponent scored over 100 points.
So yeah, this team can score, and given that the tallest player on the squad is 6'1", they shoot a lot of threes. No, really, they do - 22.1 per game at a clip of 32.5%, which is ...bad. Matter of fact, let's just get this out of the way: Joanna Harden and Brooke Bowie excepted, this team is Meighan Simmons clones. Volume shooters, the lot of them, who like to get out and run and put up the first shot they see. Contested? Whatever. (Harden shoots at a 46% clip and averages 26.6 ppg on 20.3 shots; Bowie averages 11.4 ppg on 8.9 shots, including 6.4 threes per game.)
Seriously, this is insane. As a whole, Troy averages 80+ shots per game (Tennessee's averaged closer to 67 shots per game) and 24.8 FTA per game (Tennessee, again: 21.9 FTA), and Troy has three players who could run into foul trouble to boot in Ashley Beverly-Kelley, Bowie, and Kourtney Coleman. Tennessee has a height advantage, Troy likes to jack a bunch of shots, and a Tennessee team itching to run faces an opponent that can't run efficiently.
This will be fun.
- Double-doubles. There should be no fewer than two double-doubles by Tennessee in this game. Note that this doesn't mean Tennessee needs to play a good game, but it does mean that there will be plenty of opportunities for points and boards. As long as they stay out of foul trouble, this bodes well for Bashaara Graves on the offensive glass and Isabelle Harrison on the defensive side. Mercedes Russell is another obvious candidate here. Cierra Burdick's a less-obvious pick for reasons that will become obvious in the next bullet point.
- Shot quality. Look, Troy's going to put up a boatload of shots and try and turn this game into a shootout. That's fine, provided the shots Tennessee takes are, y'know, decent. This means interior looks, open perimeter shots, and a minimum of inside-the-arc wing 2-pointers and contested looks from the 10-18 foot range. Burdick and Simmons are the obvious culprits here, but Jasmine Jones hasn't been much better in this respect.
Part of me wonders if the decision in the Texas game to bring Burdick off the bench was to give her different looks - Burdick's been relegated to that nasty midrange game in the starting five out of spacing concerns alone. I wouldn't be against shuffling her minutes around to get her higher quality shots, but if she's going to be rolling with Russell, she needs to be working off different spacing than if she gets to find shots with the Harrison-Graves duo. (This also applies to Jones, but with less severity; she just needs to provide positive minutes, but her 4.4 shots per game mean less than Burdick's 9.4 shots per game.)
As far as Simmons goes: she's going to take some of those bad shots. As long as it's a small percentage compared to threes and open shots in the lane, it's tolerable. Not ideal, but tolerable.
- Get to the line. Against a deep team like Troy (10 players average 13 minutes/game), foul trouble and the ensuing opportunity for free points will help add pressure. It's a way to use Troy's desire for pace against them - get out, get free points, make it painful.
- Russell power. I don't know how well Mercedes Russell will keep up with the pace here, but I do feel pretty confident that Troy is allergic to defense. Since Russell's going to have a height advantage, this would be an excellent opportunity for a breakout performance. Her previous season highs: 15 and 7. She also hasn't played more than 23 minutes in a game this season, which is a nice product of the depth Tennessee is sporting inside.
Prediction: 103-75 Tennessee. Viva le shot opportunities, and lest you think the 75 is a statement against Tennessee's defense, I'm guessing they'll average less than a point a shot. I wouldn't blink at a 40-point margin here, either, but Troy may hit enough threes to stay within a striking distance.
Largest margin where Mickey complains about the refs: 20.
Tip's at 2 PM, so put the men on TV and the Ladies on the radio. (Or put the men on radio and the women on TV, because you actually want to see scoring, right? Yeah, that's what I thought.)