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Vols vs. VCU, 6:30 PM / Lady Vols vs. Penn, 7 PM

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Both basketball squads open their season tonight.

One Lady Vol back, four to go.
One Lady Vol back, four to go.
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

GENTLEMEN VOLS

TV/Video:CBS College Sports Network

Radio: MONEY

Stats: Gametracker

LADY VOLS

TV/Video: SECN (Online only, I think.)

Radio: OH GOOD GRIEF

Stats: Gametracker

MEN'S BASKETBALL

So thanks to a coalescence of events amongst the writers, the one guy who doesn't follow men's basketball gets to write the opening thread for both men's and women's ball combined.  For you, that means you should read Will's discussion on this game:

HERE IS YOUR MEN'S BASKETBALL PREVIEW

As for fancy things like dedicated men's game threads and the like, well, all things will come in due time.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

As for the women's side of the house, I can help you out a bit there, though you'll probably best be served to skim the preview for the exhibition game, as many of the same words hold true tonight.  To wit:

  • Still missing 6 of 14 roster players. That's cheating just a bit since Diamond DeShields is technically a roster player, but that still leaves Burdick, Massengale, Tucker, Carter (4x academic suspension), and Russell (year-long knee rehab).  Isabelle Harrison is expected to start, however, so they're coming back to the floor slowly.  Just give them time and we'll have a full roster soon enough.
  • Alexa Middleton, starting freshman. The Lady Vols don't get too many starting freshmen; only 17 freshmen started in their first game in the program's history.  But thanks to that list of suspensions, only two guards are available tonight: Reynolds and Middleton.  But don't worry: Middleton played well on Sunday, so hopefully she will pick up from there.  In time, she may be one of the leaders of this team.
  • Wild Wings. So the available depth at the 3 spot is: Jones/Nared/Dunbar in no particular order.  (No, seriously.)  Burdick won't be back tonight, and Jones will probably have to spend a fair amount of time as a guard for rotation reasons (again, seriously), so you're looking at two freshmen who didn't have a lot of success on Sunday.  They seemed to be forcing their shots a bit, which is normal for freshmen.  It's too early to judge them yet, though, so we'll afford them some time to acclimate.

As for the opponent?  Well, Penn's not a bad team.  (Note: this is no surprise, as the Lady Vols rarely schedule soft, even in the soft games.)  They won the Ivy League last year and finished as runners up the previous four years.  They're very well balanced (experience: 4 seniors, 3 juniors, 4 sophomores, 4 freshmen) (height: 2 at 6'-3", none below 5'-7") and return 3 starters (Kathleen Roche, Sydney Stipanovich, and Kara Bonenberger), and finished last year with the #58 RPI in the nation (and had beaten Miami in Miami's house 67-66).

Some quick bullet points on the Penn Quakers:

  • They'll be without last year's top scorer. Alyssa Baron graduated after hitting 14.9 PPG.  That's not entirely a loss, however, as she was Simmons-level efficient with the ball, hitting 37 eFG%, which made her the third-best shooting guard on the team. 
  • Post play is their strength. This is, in a way, great news for Tennessee; with Harrison back, they'll have their core post strength (Izzy and Graves) available to take on Penn's best.  For Penn, they will look to feed Stipanovich (6'-3" sophomore center who was second in scoring last year) and Bonenberger (6'-1" senior forward and third in scoring).  If these two get shut down, Penn is done.  The one caveat: without Burdick, UT's interior rotation gets a little weird, so Penn might find success if they're willing to give it a bit of time and let their moments come to them.
  • Efficiency over Pace. Last year, Penn played slightly slower than the average team, but was slightly more efficient on offense and decidedly more efficient on defense.  Expect this year to seem similar since the interior strength of the team returns and the guards are undergoing more transition.  If UT gives them too much time, they'll find ways to score.
  • Pace over Efficiency. That said, Tennessee's depth is on the sidelines going through class notes.  If Penn can find a way to keep tempo up (which I have no idea if they can), they could tire Tennessee's starters and, in time, find success late in the game.

So, a few keys for the Ladies' game:

  • A controlled start. There are a lot of new faces out there tonight, and a lot of familiar faces augmenting the cheerleading squad.  In the exhibition game, Carson-Newman ran ahead 8-3 until Tennessee settled in and started to roll.  Get the first few minutes out of the way with the score at least close, and they'll be fine.
  • Smart shot selection. Part of the problem on Sunday was the insistence on deep two-point shooting by the guards and wings (read: same percentage as three point shooting, but without the bonus point and easier to defend).  As they find their spacing on the floor, they'll find the shots that best suit the personnel on the floor, but that's going to be a building process for this team.
  • Easy on the fouls. Again, it's only an eight player rotation.  If one or two get in early foul trouble (/cough /cough Izzy /cough /cough), things could get interesting.  Start simple; physically aggressive play can come in due time.
  • But seriously just feed Izzy and things will be fine. Yes, Penn's strength is in the interior.  No, it doesn't hold a candle to the Izzy and Graves show.  (Honestly, it might not hold a candle to Moore, but there's plenty of time to figure that out.)  Own the interior: it forces Penn's best players into fouling situations; it takes pressure off the guards and wings; it sets the right tone for the rest of the year. 

Prediction: Lady Vols 83, Penn 65.

Jones Watch: 15 minutes of playing time.

* - Dave Clawson approves this message.  Or, at least we think he does.  Give him some time to get back to us on that.