After a gritty win over Rutgers on Sunday, Wichita State comes to Knoxville to kick off a three-game homestand around Christmas and New Year's. WSU is the worst of the three teams, but since the other two teams are Stanford and Oregon State, that's not a knock on the Shockers*.
*Look, I have no idea if they're the Lady Shockers. Let's just move on.
The Shockers clock in with one of the weirder schedules I've seen: 6-2 overall with a couple of losses to mid-majors (including getting housed by Eastern Washington) but with wins over Ohio State, Clemson, and Kansas State in three of their last four. I don't normally see that combination, but Wichita State's RPI-a decent, but not awe-inspiring 56-kind of averages it out.
The Lady Vols will have a height advantage on WSU, who will spread it out and slow it down, or at least that's what I can figure out when you only average 60 points per game. They have a couple of decent shooters, only go 6 deep reliably, and-again-aren't particularly tall. It seems like the Shockers are basically a not-as-good version of Rutgers, honestly. Tennessee should know their game.
Alex Harden and Michaela Dapprich are the hybrid wing types who take most of their shots, Jamilian Bonner gets way too many boards for a 5'8" guard (6.6 RPG, which leads the team), and the bench averages 5 points per game. Don't expect anything from the bench is my point here.
So, the keys for Lady Vols success:
- Push Tempo. Wichita State is in its wheelhouse with slow, inefficient, defense-first games. Tennessee got sucked into that game against Rutgers, but found their legs enough to pull away late. WSU doesn't have the long-term legs or the talent Rutgers has, plus they're saddled with a mediocre A/TO. This will be on Jordan Reynolds to not be afraid of pushing given any opportunity-Ariel Massengale typically does a decent job of it.
- Efficiency zones. Wichita State seems happy enough to just toss up midrange shots all day long, and I don't think they'll be able to succeed in the paint long-term. Tennessee should be able to force WSU out of their comfort zone ...somehow. I don't know the defense WSU plays, but I'd guess they play a lane-clogging zone akin to what Rutgers played. The Lady Vols were more than happy to let Rutgers do their thing on Sunday, which led to some abysmal shooting. So: change the game. Shoot threes. WSU can't and won't play man against Tennessee for more than, um, three minutes, so punish the collapse. Once they react, then pound it inside.
- Get some kind of run. Again, slow zoning team who can't really shoot (Harden and Michaela Dapprich can, but they're it). An early 12-0 run will likely kill this game off. Isabelle Harrison seemed to figure out her game around halftime on Sunday; more of this and WSU doesn't stand much of a chance.
- Stop playing dumb. It baffles me when this team-who excels at pace and isn't great in the halfcourt sets right now-decides to slow it down and play for the midrange shot. I'm not expecting them to stop the midrange game entirely; Houston's done that and they're basically unwatchable. However, at least just stop the 18 footers. I saw a couple of corner threes against Rutgers, which is a nice step. (Also, Reynolds: if you've got time to launch the three because you're that unguarded, just take it. They're not guarding you on that shot because you're not taking it. At least make them respect it.)
PREDICTION: 78-53 Tennessee. It really should be approaching 90, but they're gonna get sucked into playing slow for a bit before hitting the gas. [ed. Hooper - I'll roll with 87 - 55, which is really no different than Pendley but appears different enough to look like I'm more bullish.]
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 18 minutes.