Eyeballs: SECN / ESPN3
Mathballs: New Math was a terrible, terrible idea.
The annual Lady-Vols-in-Memorial-likely-with-Mattingly-neutralizing-Harrison game happens early in conference play this year. (Editor's note: the Missouri game didn't actually include Lisa Mattingly. The enemy is everywhere.) Because it's in Vandy's goofball arena, we are obligated to mention that something something unique geometry something something benches something something floating baskets. With that out of the way, we can focus on, you know, the game.
Vanderbilt is always an interesting draw for Tennessee. Something about the Lady Vols tends to draw out the best in the Commodores, though this year's version is struggling a bit to redefine themselves. With the graduation of both Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister, Vanderbilt's highly frustrating backcourt is gone, along with a ton of experience outmaneuvering Tennessee's defense. In their wake is a team that seems to still be looking for consistency in its starting lineup; to date, only junior guard Morgan Batey has started all games she's played. Eleven players are averaging more than 15 minutes per game, though that's somewhat inflated by players who haven't appeared in all games this year (Khaléann Caron-Goudreau's 1 game for 22 minutes being the most stark example). Because of this, the starting lineup is anybody's guess at the time of this writing, but I'll note that the last game started guards Dahlman, Jenkins, and Batey, along with forwards Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau and Heather Bowe. That matches up well, height-wise, with Tennessee, with perhaps an inch here or there in the Lady Vols favor across the lineup.
Vandy Bullet Points
- Balcomb's calling card. The notable thing about a Vandy team is that they generally play very well together. Their offense is always halfcourt-based, with lots of screens and ball motion until a breakdown affords an open shot. Unlike Tennessee, the shot selection tends to be smart, with three pointers in place of desperation 18-footers. They can be contained, but it will require strong defensive communication and prompt switches when appropriate.
- That said, this year's version is much more turnover-prone that normal (19.7/game), thanks in very large part to the loss of two perennial starters in the backcourt as mentioned above. They don't foul much, with their 16 fouls/game somewhat inflated by 5 losses, 4 of which necessitated purposeful fouls at the end of the game (the 91-52 loss to UConn didn't need fouls). Shooting is decent, but not excellent as in former years, with an eFG% of 48.9% (UT is at 44.8% for comparison). Likewise, the 0.91 PPP isn't world-beating by any means. They do rebound well, with a 40% offensive rebounding % to their credit. And, as you may have guessed, they don't play terribly fast. Against Elon, they had 80 possessions, but that's their ceiling.
- Who to watch: With the volatility in the rotation, this is a bit difficult to pin exactly. Morgan Batey is the obvious choice, given her team-leading playing time (well, 1 minute behind Dahlman, but whatever). But Batey is third in assists to two players with significantly fewer minutes, middle-of-the-pack in shooting percentages, and not much of a three-point shooter. However, she shoots 90% from the charity stripe and leads the team in rebounds (as a guard, mind), which is why she's on the floor so much.
After Batey, freshman guard Rebekah Dahlman is the leading scorer and main three-point threat. If anybody needs to be shut down from the perimeter, this is the one to shut down. She's turnover prone (39 in 13 games), so there's that.
Inside the paint, there are the Caron-Goudreau sisters. Audrey-Ann has played all year, while Khaléan only played in the Texas A&M game (which smells like a midseason eligibility issue more than anything else). Both are 6'-3" forwards getting about 22-24 minutes/game. They are effectively the Graves/Burdick to Heather Bowe, who has missed much of the season to injury. She did start against A&M, however, so she should be available and is the most talented forward on the team. And for those who remember, Marqu'es Webb is still on the team, and she's probably still the foul magnet who frustrated the Lady Vols in previous seasons.
Copy/Pasted Keys for Tennessee
- Look, you know this already. On offense, don't beat your head with stupid shot selection. If Vandy puts four defenders in the paint, the answer is not to pass around the perimeter and take a goofy 18-footer at the end of the shotclock. Finding ways to get transition buckets would be optimal, but even missed three-pointers tend to have long bounces, which can fly past a packed defense and allow for offensive board. Look for Harrison, sure, but take cherry shots from the perimeter and keep Vandy honest.
- On defense, well, keep doing what you're doing. The defense is working well for Tennessee, and the communication continues to improve. This Vandy offense isn't as polished as the last couple years, and Tennessee is better at handling guards than they have been in years past.
- Rebounds. So far, Tennessee hasn't really lived up to its rebounding potential. They do very well on the offensive glass, but have underwhelmed on defense. Vandy's leading rebounder is a guard, so UT has to be mindful of more than just boxing out the posts.
- Finally, keep the turnover rates in UT's favor. Vandy is more turnover-prone than Tennessee this year (no, seriously: UT's turnover rates for/against are 18% and 28%, while Vandy's are 27% and 22%, respectively). If the turnovers end up something like 20 for Vandy and 13 for Tennessee, the Lady Vols will be in good shape.
PREDICTION: 72 - 64 Tennessee. I still don't trust Tennessee's offense to put this away, but Vandy has more issues. Expect a slow pace again - perhaps about 75 possessions or so - and some moments of clownshoes by both teams, but Tennessee's in a much better position coming into the game. SPECIAL BONUS PREDICTIONS FROM CHRIS: Sri Lanka wins by 6 wickets and Tennessee wins, 68-55. Even the unwatchable Rutgers game ended up as a 10-point win, and if Harrison draws Mattingly-in-Memorial again, we probably need to scrape together some bail money and move the trial to Knoxville, because no jury in Knoxville would convict.
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 7 minutes to go in the game, thanks to Harrison's 4th foul. (Hi, Mattingly! /waves)