Video: SECN / The '3 ($)
Last we left the Lady Vols, they were busy clearing the bench against a Stanford team with even more offensive woes than Tennessee. The man-switch defense finally clicked for a full 40 minutes, and the pressure it generated kept Stanford's offenses rooted in place, unable to sprout any sustained offense. On offense, the Lady Vols were far from polished, but were certainly improved over previous outings. The modestly better shot selections and the quicker passing allowed for enough points to uproot any hopes Stanford had of catching up.
The PAC-12 tour de Knoxville concludes with Oregon State's appearance and is the last game for Tennessee before conference play begins. On the surface, the Beavers appear to be swimming along as a potential NCAA 4-seed or so, having won all games to date (including a 15-point victory over North Carolina in Chapel Hill). A peek under the waterline, however, suggests that Oregon State may have trouble keeping their win streak afloat. Here are some particulars to chew on while waiting for the game to start:
- Undefeated against ineffectual opposition. The Oregon State 10-0 record has a big caveat: current opponent RPIs (as of this writing) are: 249, 241, 217, 215, 180, 103, 90, 72, and 7. The 7 is North Carolina, who bricked up a 28% FG, 46% FT night in a 15-point loss to the Beavers. (Further caveat: North Carolina may be the highest-profile random-number-generator in women's basketball this year.)
- OSU is not a fast team. Other than a 91-possession performance against Sacramento State, the Beavers have not had an 80-possession game this year. Their 78-possession game against UNC included 23 turnovers to 15 assists, 23 fouls, and a 7-28 (!) three-point performance. (Seriously, to put this in perspective, UNC's 28% shooting was the same as Tennessee's against Rutgers. Remember that Tennessee offense and ask yourself again why UNC lost.)
- Similar offensive prowess, less effective defense. Both OSU and UT have sub-1.0 O-PPP marks against the better teams on their schedule, but Tennessee's D-PPP is about 0.2 lower than OSU's (roughly 0.8 to 0.6). This excludes the Chattanooga and Texas games where Tennessee's defense wasn't working well. Those can't be dismissed, but the problems that plagued the defense (namely lack of communication and koala bear-like reaction times) have disappeared over the last few games. At any rate, if both defenses play as expected, Tennessee's is better enough to account for about a 15 point margin.
- No true standout. It's not often you see a team where nobody gets 30 minutes/game. OSU's leading player by floor time is 6'-0" guard Sydney Weise, with 27.5 minutes/game at the moment. Conversely, every player has at least 10 minutes/game: the lowest mark is Kolbie Orum with 11.9. Notably, this holds true for Tennessee, where the range is 27.9 mpg for Graves and 11.3 mpg for Dunbar. (Tucker is on 1.0 mpg, but she doesn't count yet for obvious reasons.)
The point here is this: Oregon State will have to match depth with Tennessee. It'll be harder to tire the Beavers out, but the second-team matchups will figure to be important. Depth is the one place where very few teams can keep up with Tennessee; this is a big advantage.
Counterargument: against UNC, three players only had 5 minutes and OSU shortened the rotation to seven players. That is a very reasonable possibility again, meaning OSU will have to pick between fatigue and possible matchup issues.
- Launching the three. 38% of OSU's shots from the floor are from beyond the arc. (For a laugh, remember that Tennessee is currently at 21% on this mark largely due to sheer stubbornness.) Against UNC, 49% of OSU's floor shots were from three. The danger here is the random number effect: if they jack threes all game long and hit on a lot of them, there's not much to be done about it. The flipside is that they can't risk a cold streak. Combine this with their slow pace of play suggests that they have a hard time getting the ball inside.
- Who to watch for. Despite their three-happy nature, OSU is anchored in the post by 6'-6" junior center Ruth Hamblin, who happens to be their most efficient and prolific scorer with over 26 points/40 minutes (Sydney Wiesse is second with 19 points/40 minutes). Hamblin's rebound rate is also tops on the team, accounting for nearly a quarter of all Beaver boards. Some of that is a function of the schedule, considering that very few WBB teams can handle a competent 6'-6" post, but it's also partly due to OSU being willing to shoot from three, opening up the paint for their most productive player and letting her HEY UT ARE YOU GETTING THE HINT YET YOU CAN FREE IZZY UP BY LETTING THE GUARDS SHOOT
- Ok, with that out of the way. Sydney Wiesse and Jamie Weisner are legit three-point shooters, hitting 51% and 41% on the year so far. After that, a slew of girls hover around 30%, but those two can create problems from deep. If one or both of them get hot from three, well, that happens from time to time and it makes for a long night. But if the Lady Vols can keep them out of their rhythm (or, as Massengale did to Stanford, answer the threes with threes of their own), OSU becomes very limited offensively. This is the kind of game where the man switch defense can shine.
Thoughts for success:
- Maintain that defensive pressure. For as much as the Stanford win was a product of bad Tree offense, Tennessee's defense was particularly effective in keeping Stanford from finding any footing. The man-switch had its best night of the year, and the length and speed that Tennessee can apply with it should be enough to relegate Oregon State to desperation threes for most of the night.
- Build on the lessons learned on offense. Tennessee's shooting wasn't great against Stanford (38% from the floor, 29% from three), but it was good enough. Most importantly, it was better thanks to smarter shot selection that forced Stanford to respect the perimeter. Being willing to take three point shots prevented Stanford from playing Occupy Paint all night long and let Harrison and Graves do their thing.
- That's ... that's it, really. The defense seems to be in fine shape. The offense needs work, but it all seems to be a matter of not being too bullheaded about getting the ball in the paint. At least make defenses respect the guards and the paint will take care of itself. (It also helps with rebounds, in case anybody at UT didn't notice the 3:2 rebounding edge the Lady Vols had over Stanford. Seriously, if I'm confident in this point, is has to be obvious to them as well, right?)
PREDICTION: Chris made his before I thought about mine, so I'll list him first: 73-56 Tennessee, largely for reasons listed in the post above. I'll roll with 85-49 Tennessee, assuming that Harrison and Graves will do their thing, Oregon State's turnover woes make for easy points, and the defense plays lockdown.
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 10 minutes.