I'd like to tell you Missouri is a good women's basketball team. I'd like to tell you they're going to have the kind of quality to come into Tennessee and challenge the Lady Vols. I'd also like world peace, because Missouri is coming off a loss to Missouri State.
Yes, the Tigers are 10-3, but they're 10-3 with an RPI of 116 and while you've heard of some of the teams they've beaten-Colorado, Wake Forest, UT-Martin-they also sport losses to Cal (no big deal) and Bradley.
By and large, this is a team struggling to figure out what to do with the absence of Bri Kulas. Jordan Frericks has been a one-woman wrecking ball on offense (54% from inside the arc, 10.2 RPG), but has two huge holes in her game: she doesn't shoot from beyond the arc and she can't shoot free throws. That's a problem for the nominal post, which will be compounded by her giving up size to more or less half of Tennessee's roster. Three-point specialist Morgan Eye is back, but isn't shooting great from beyond the arc so far (33.6% on the year). That's well below her 40% career percentage, but this by-game breakdown is basically the definition of hot-or-cold.
Other than them? Eh. Kayla McDowell's a danger and Sierra Michaelis is the kind of player who can rack up midrange shots at some efficiency, but everyone else is mostly taking up space. Only two players have an A/TO greater than 1, they normally play at or around the mid-70s in terms of possessions.
Meanwhile, the Lady Vols are coming off back-to-back wins over top 10 opponents. They're 2-1 against top 10 teams on the year-somewhat surprisingly, at least if you watched the Chattanooga and Texas games. The big problems of the year centered around executing on offense and communication on defense, and those have improved faster than they had in prior years. This bodes well for the beginning of conference play and a comparatively easier next two games before Texas A&M comes into town. Before that, though:
- Let the offense be the offense. There's been a clearly defined plan for the past two games. Some of that is likely because Tennessee couldn't afford to mentally slack off against top 10 teams, but Missouri isn't in the same class. That doesn't mean it's time to abandon plans. I'm not against the "just make a play" breakdowns late, but there might be two players good enough to run iso sets: Isabelle Harrison and Ariel Massengale. Everyone else: within the flow of the offense, even if you get your primary number called. No hero ball, even if you make your first two shots.
- Limit Missouri's points per weighted shot. Missouri is happy enough to chuck, clocking in with nine performances below 1.1 PPWS and seven below 1 PPWS. Sure, Tennessee has seven performances below 1 PPWS, but they've also played ranked teams. I mean, this roughly translates as "defend and don't let them get to the line", but we're at least putting numbers on it.
- Turnover rates north of 20%. Missouri is more than happy to turn it over once every five possessions at least, while the only teams that have done that against Tennessee are themselves (St. Francis), Stanford, and Wichita State. Free possessions given the disparity these teams already have? Where do I sign?
- Length and lineups. If Jasmine Jones is ready to go again, the Jordan Reynolds-Jones-Cierra Buridck-Bashaara Graves-Harrison lineup is a mess offensively outside the paint, but it's a funky enough defensive lineup that Tennessee can use it as a run-stopper. I think I saw an ultra-small Massengale-Carter-Middleton-Burdick-Harrison lineup deployed at times, but there's probably an even smaller swap (Tucker or Reynolds for Burdick) out there if they want to use it. Missouri plays small, so look for the Lady Vols to run a couple smaller lineups if they get a chance.
PREDICTION: 84-61 Tennessee. I don't trust Missouri at all here, which is a common refrain. Hooper's going with 82-51 Tennessee, so that's a whole different level of distrust.
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 4 minutes.