Video: ESPNU / Whatever this link might be.
So last we left the Lady Vols, they were finishing up an 81-58 trouncing of a defensively very good A&M squad. It's the kind of win that might tempt some people to start making predictions about the NCAA tournament but, well, we've been down that road before. So, moving on from such folly, we now look at the next game: Arkansas.
It's still kind of odd to not have Tom Collen at the helm of the Razorbacks (who, by the way, WBBState refers to as the "LadyBacks" for some reason, but nobody's perfect). Instead, they have Jimmy Dykes, formerly of ESPN, ABC, and once on the male Razorbacks (ManBacks?) team. Collen was quiet, unassuming, and above all, provided very consistent and capable teams. Dykes is in every sense the opposite, bringing a nationally recognized name to the program as well as, well, if you made me pick one word to describe this year's Razorbacks (Chili's... Lady Back Ribs ...), it would be inconsistent.
Seriously, this is the team that took out then-17 Iowa on a neutral floor, beat Oklahoma, fell by only 2 to A&M, and got drilled by Ole Miss. They went Bizarro World in a loss to Rutgers, dropping an O-PPP of 0.75 while allowing an offensively-challenged team to get an O-PPP of 0.9. A home loss to SDSU featured an O-PPP of 1, and their possession rates have gone from 79 (vs. Oklahoma) to 60 (vs. Missouri State, of all teams), which has to be at least a misdemeanor in some states.
The thing to note about all that is that they are quite capable of pulling off an upset, if the tidal forces line up right. Here's a rundown of what might lead to such a win.
- Calli Berna. Arkansas's senior point guard is one of the best PGs in the nation, and has been for a while. She won't kill anybody with her shooting (which, at 26 FG% and 58 FT%, is not exactly good for a guard), but her 5 assists/game, 5 boards/game, and only 2 turnovers/game are right where you like to see your point guard in "role-playing" stats. She won't beat anybody with altheticism, but she plays her role very, very well and she sets up her team nicely.
- As far as shooting goes, Kelsey Brooks is the guard with points on this team. She leads the squad with 16.5 PPG behind 37% shooting (FG and 3P) and an also-bizarre 66% from the line. Her scoring is slightly buoyed by volume shooting, but not much. She's also second on the team with 2.7 assists/game and gets over 5 boards on average.
- Overall, Arkansas is a reasonably tall team and will likely start with a three-foward lineup along with the aforementioned guards. Jessica Jackson is second in points with 14.5/game, also due to 37% shooting. The 6'-3" sophomore also leads the team with a 75% free throw rate (!!!) if you discount girls who have tried fewer than 10 FTs. (I mean, that's Calipari-level bad FT shooting right there.) Jhasmin Bowen and Melissa Wolf round out the front court and lead the team with 7 and 9 boards/game respectively. Note that their rebound rate is not much higher than the guards, which suggests that they rely on Zerg-rushing the boards more so than an individual specialty.
- To date, Arkansas has only played 9 girls, and the 5 starters are only pulled off the floor for breathers or foul trouble. All starters are getting more than 31 minutes/game except Bowen, who is at 27 (and given the Tennessee-esque number of tune-up games they had to start the season, those minutes are likely higher in conference play).
- So with a relative lack of speed in the guards, a tall lineup, and starters that never leave the floor, you can expect them to run halfcourt all game long and keep things nice and slow. (I'm bringing Lady Back, them other teams don't know how to act...)
So to beat them:
- Run. Obvious, right?
- Izzy. Just keep her out of foul trouble and let her do her thing.
- Get Graves back on track. Arkansas will likely double Harrison unless they're forced to be honest. Graves is the honest.
- Disrupt their offense with second-half fouls, if need be. As a team, they shoot 65% from the line. There's nothing to fear there.
PREDICTION: 78 - 55 Tennessee, with some good practice time for Middleton, Nared, and Dunbar at the end.
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 11 minutes, with her spelling Harrison early in the first half for a short while to avoid fouls. The way Moore played against A&M, she's earned a bit of time.
(Serious note: "Lady'Backs" is a legitimate alternate name for women's sports at Arkansas. But it's the kind of nickname that gets tunes stuck in your head.)