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Lady Vols Basketball Preview, Part Two

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Post play, aka pillow talk.

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 your post game
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 your post game
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

When we left Hooper's preview, he covered the guards and some-well, most-of the wings. For those of you who recognized this is Part 2, that leaves the rest of the roster and a short discussion of what might happen with rotations and positions (since this piece was dependent on Mercedes Russell's health, and, well, so much for that this year unfortunately).

MERCEDES RUSSELL

Get well soon, and get ready for as many touches as you want next year.

NIA MOORE

We'll start with Moore, who's entering her junior year as the third "pure" big on the roster. Limited primarily to games against overmatched opponents her freshman year (and buried on the roster once conference play started), she played a bit more in-conference last year. Her numbers ticked up (50% eFG, 1.09 points per weighted shot, which we're calling PPWS the rest of the way, 19% rebound rate) so there's hope that she'll be able to be a between-TV-timeouts minutes sop for the interior core. However, the Nia Moore Block Party parties are likely strictly against overmatched opponents.

This year, I'd be happy with maintaing the same numbers against better competition, as the string of five-minutes-or-less games against opponents with a pulse will likely wear down the rest of the posts without a lot of small lineups.

CIERRA BURDICK

Burdick presents an interesting test case; last year was basically a loss as a brutal early half of the season decimated her overall numbers (0.91 PPWS and really, the rest doesn't matter). At her best, she'll dish, not hurt you from the floor, and hold her own on the boards. Last year was not that year: 40.8% eFG, 12.2% assist rate, 14.7% board rate. However, 2012-13 looks better: 46.8% eFG, 1.03 PPWS, 26.6% assist rate, 15.3% board rate.

With this roster, Burdick has the opportunity to spend more time closer to the paint, which should help her numbers. Part of the problem last year was Burdick's only spacing in the starting five was on the wing (which, granted, will also be the problem to start this year; Jasmine Jones ain't starting over her), but there's enough flexibility to give her time in the post, and it's not hard to imagine smaller lineups featuring her at the four.

As a senior, you'd like Burdick to approach at least the 1.1 PPWS threshold, which she can do by getting to the line more and hitting at a better rate from midrange. She'll get almost as many minutes as she wants, depending on what happens with the other posts.

BASHAARA GRAVES

First things first: don't be fooled by the downtick in her raw numbers last year. Mercedes Russell-and yeah, Izzy Harrison-were so good that they just tanked the usage rates for everyone else. (Also, Jasmine Jones had a usage rate above 20%, which should never ever ever ever ever ever happen.) Graves maintained her core stats (53.5% eFG 2013-14 vs. 52.2% eFG 2012-13, 1.15 PPWS 2013-14 vs. 1.14 PPWS 2012-13, 15.1% board rate both years) even with a downtick in assist rate (19.3% 2012-13 to 8.4% 2013-14).

However, the assist rate drop doesn't entirely match the eye test, which showed Graves was trying to thread tougher needles to admittedly mixed results. The Harrison-Graves High-Low Show wasn't in full swing for large parts of last year, which hurt the assist rates on both ends. On the other hand, her assist rate is about the only thing that's realistically going to get much better this year. She can and will function in high and low post, but seems to relish the dirty low-post game, although I wouldn't complain if she moves her office to not under the backboard-she got pushed past the hoop a lot last year.

Graves should get 25+ minutes a night barring foul trouble this year, likely third on the team behind Ariel Massengale When Healthy and Harrison, who's going to do what she wants. If you're not following rate stats (key indicators; 55%+ eFG, 1.2 PPWS, board rate around 20%, assist rate 15%, any blocks or steals-a weird hole in her game, admittedly) you're going to be surprised when Graves drops near a double-double average this year, because she's absolutely that good.

ISABELLE HARRISON

Yeah, we're saving the top-5 WNBA draft prospect for last. Harrison was disgusting last year: 57.7% eFG, 1.2 PPWS(!), 22.3% board rate, 9% assist rate, 5.3% block+steal rate. Those were another huge leap following her leap the as a sophomore, and I have no idea what to expect if she makes a third leap this year. 60+% eFG? 1.3 PPWS? 25+% board rates? She's the best player on the team, it isn't even close, and the offense should run through her whenever she's on the floor.

You can win big with 2013-14 Izzy as the best player on your team. The holes in her game are small, but notable: you'd like the assist rate to be a bit higher as she gets used to being defensive target #1 and you'd really want her to not have Lisa Mattingly take her out of the game get frustrated at the refs. Aside from those holes, the sky's the limit. Her offensive moves are varied, she's strong enough defensively, and she's good enough from the line to avoid Hack-a-1996-Atlanta-Olympics-Mascot. Don't forget the 20/15 as she big-girled South Carolina and their posts at the end of the regular season last year; she can raise her game when the moment calls.

I'd be happy if Izzy matches her core stats from last year but cracks the 15% assist rate. 1.25 PPWS is nice, but I'd be getting greedy if I expected that. Enjoy the ride.

OKAY, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ROTATIONS

So it seems that we're looking at this starting five:

PG: Ariel Massengale

SG: Andraya Carter, maybe-her or Jannah Tucker seem the likely options here

W: Cierra Burdick

PF: Bashaara Graves

C: Isabelle Harrison

There's plenty of flexibility, of course. Unlike the last couple of years, a three-guard lineup (likely putting Burdick on the bench, I'd guess) doesn't kill guard depth off the bench, and there are perimeter threats in the starting five and on the bench. Jamie Nared will sink into minutes as she gets used to the college game, and it's too early to say what'll happen with Burdick, Moore, and the interior once conference play starts. I'd guess Jasmine Jones (and her hopefully-not-20%-usage-rate this year; yikes), whoever loses the starting 2 battle, and Jordan Reynolds are the first three off the bench right now given that starting five.

The more interesting questions are what happens with the guard rotation, which: yeah, I know. Nared and Alexa Middleton are the wild cards here; Nared's midrange game-quick digression: yeah, midrange games *can* work, but you need board sweepers and the ability to hit 45% at least for it to be kind of worthwhile-and Middleton's perimeter threat are useful tools to have. There are a bunch of shots up for grabs with the departure of Meighan Simmons, and at least some of those should go to the posts. Presumably Holly Warlick won't pull a Mulkey and just give Harrison 45 shots a game, though.

There's a lot to like about the Lady Vols this year, even with Russell needing a redshirt. The team is more balanced than it's been in prior years (the Simmons effect), a lot of the other top teams in the country lost a lot of talent, and, well, you know, top-5 WNBA draft picks don't grow on trees.

Well, except for in Knoxville. Grab your pillow.