Stats: view at your peril
First, the good news: The Lady Vols looked awful against Rutgers and Wichita State but won both games. Now, the bad news: shot selection has looked terrible for most of the season. We'll come back to this. Last, the weird, entertaining news: Stanford also lost to UT-Chattanooga in Chattanooga, which is a sign UT-C is better at home than we'd expect. It's also a sign Ohio State never should've ditched Jim Foster, although I still hold him responsible for inflicting Prahalis on women's basketball.
While you were off doing things other than watching the Lady Vols' contributions to Habitat for Humanity, you missed the entire team deciding that all possessions must work inside out, open perimeter shots and collapsing man and/or 2-3 zone be damned. It's now this disjointed, ugly thing, and games are now featuring multiple passed up open threes for either more ball rotation or drives resulting in 15-footers. The entire offense right now: ugly, inefficient, and pretty much all the guards (Ariel Massengale excepted) are in a shooting slump.
Of course, I feel like we've said this every other year under Holly Warlick. The major exception in past years, non-ironically: Meighan Simmons just kind of generated her own offense. Both uses of the word offense apply there, but there was a strong "I can break this play and it's fine" component to her play. Massengale's the only guard right now who's willing to break the offense and pull the trigger.
Side note: I don't know how I feel about Massengale anchoring the second unit. There is clearly not enough offense as currently constructed on the first team (exacerbated by Andraya Carter and Jordan Reynolds' horrific slumps making them second-guess every single open shot). Massengale helps solve that problem, but at the cost of having no offense on the second unit. There are all kinds of questionable second-team decisions going on right now, the most critical of which is Nia Moore's utter lack of playing time. She may not be able to hack it even against average second-team posts on defense, but you don't know this (and neither do I) because she isn't getting any opportunity to prove that assertion wrong.
Stanford, meanwhile, shut down UConn's offense, which is both more dynamic and better designed that the Lady Vols' offense. If the blueprint to beat Tennessee was set by UT-C, Rutgers, and Wichita State, Tara Vanderveer is absolutely smart enough to use that.The Cardinal have enough offense to make it work, too.
Lili Thompson (58.3% true%, 48.7% from beyond the arc) and Amber Orrange (57.8% ture, 32.8% from beyond the arc) form the basis of Stanford's two-guard approach, but two other players who approach 20 minutes/game have a true shooting percentage north of 50% (Karlie Samuelson and Kailee Johnson are the other two). I mean, it's Stanford. Ignore their 6-3 record: their other two losses are to Texas and North Carolina. It's not like we can say anything there. They have height (four players with notable minutes are 6'3"), depth (9 players over 10 minutes per game, kinda-I mean, here, you figure this out), and talent. They also have a win over UConn, which I'm going to beat into the ground for reasons that should be really, really obvious on a Tennessee blog.
Do they have weaknesses? They can be turned over. Unlike the Lady Vols, who can turn in utter turnover rate duds and still win, Stanford can't really afford to break a turnover rate of 18%; get one turnover every six possessions on average and they'll have problems. They don't play particularly fast and can be slowed down. They also seem to be entirely binary from beyond the arc: if they shoot sub-30% they'll struggle, but if they're not sub-30% they're 50% or better. So: streaky.
So, bullet points:
- TAKE EVERY SINGLE FRIGGIN' OPEN THREE WITHOUT HAVING TO SPEND SIX SECONDS SIZING IT UP. This is how you give me a heart attack.
- Switch it up; work outside in sometimes. See above, which was important enough for me to say separately. Teams collapse the interior because Tennessee doesn't shoot often (or well enough!) from beyond the arc. The former is easily fixable; the latter is a matter of confidence, which seems as much coaching point as anything. The problem will never get fixed if the guard contingent is scared of getting pulled from the game whenever they take an open three, which is by far the dumbest thing I've written this season. I'm not the biggest fan of threes from the elbow, but I'm even less a fan of dumping the ball into a triple team. Isabelle Harrison shouldn't need to get the crap knocked out of her every time she shoots because nobody cares enough to guard the guards. Bonus: Stanford's really good at defending the two-point shot (38% 2-pt allowed), so make them not do that.
- Get Bashaara Graves some space already. Speaking of shooting slumps: Graves has been getting squeezed on spacing basically the entirety of the last two games because of how Tennessee has been playing. It's difficult to play a high-low game when there are four defenders in that area, so of course she's basically subsisted on offensive boards, outback attempts, and free throws. This is dumb. She's better than that. Fix it.
- Push pace on both sides of the ball. If you read into the weaknesses for Stanford, you probably figured this out already, but: havoc. Pushing Stanford's decision-making process on offense should result in turnovers, and their A/TO is already south of 1. Freebie points: useful!
- Now featuring: Jannah Tucker? She's shown as on the bench and not suspended, so you've been warned. Also somewhat related: it appears Cierra Burdick has displaced Jasmine Jones as the wing starter, which I'm okay with. Burdick isn't much of a midrange shooter, but she's been around long enough to know to crash the glass when needed.
- Compensate for the Mattingly/Kantner unholy duo. Come on, you know it and I know it.
PREDICTION: 78-61 Stanford. I have literally zero reason to expect Tennessee to make any of the adjustments above. Weirdly, I also have little doubt they'll figure it out by February. They're going to get housed today, though. [Ed. Hooper - I'll go with 65 - 56 Stanford. I'm on board with the logic Chris uses, but I feel these two teams are determined to break the Geneva Conventions with their brutally slow play.]
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 0 minutes, because that's exactly the kind of absurd decision-making I've come to expect. Somewhat related: seems like Kortney Dunbar is going to be stapled to the bench for a while.