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Things we've learned about the Tennessee Lady Vols this year: they really, really like defense. They like it so much they've mostly forgotten about the concept of offense, until recently eschewing useful things like open shots and three-point attempts to try and throw it into the paint against defenses that stack five in the paint.
Have I got a matchup for you.
Texas A&M comes into Knoxville as a top 10 team with wins over Duke and [insert good second team here] and losses to Texas (by 2) and Washington (by 21). Gary Blair's still running the same midrange-heavy game, relying on defense and volume-I guess-to win games. I mean, it works.
If you're the kind of fan who really enjoyed the Rutgers game, you're in for a treat. If you like free-flowing offense, bring a scalpel. This will be painful.
Texas A&M is led by Courtney Walker, who's on her 14th year of eligibility (44% from the floor, 87% from the line), Courtney Williams (45% from the floor, 62% from the line), and Jordan Jones (41% from the floor, 73% from the line), and that's it offensively. Everyone else is under 6 points a game, Walker and Jones are the only players with north of 50% true shooting, which is buoyed by their good FT% numbers. The (correct) implication from that: everyone else is bad at the line. There are a lot of ugly numbers from, well, everywhere. Nobody can shoot threes decently, so you're looking a lot of midrange and driving games. Stop them offensively and all you need to do is score 60 to win.
Fortunately, that's what Tennessee does. This will be tough, but Texas A&M is a great matchup for this team. Here's what to look for:
- Harrison staying out of foul trouble. After two games charitably called as "forgettable", Isabelle Harrison would like to play more than five minutes without foul trouble. She's been taken out of games both by bad foul calls and by herself; if and/or when Lisa Mattingly shows up at this game, she won't be able to do anything about the former. May as well do something about the latter.
- Guard shooting back? Ariel Massengale's reinvented herself as a three-point specialist off the bench (which isn't really doing her total skill set credit, but at this point there may be something else going on) and is the only player who hasn't horribly slumped on offense all year. However, Andraya Carter (12/26 from the floor the last two games) and Jordan Reynolds (double digit points the last two games) have shown signs of at least being aggressive. Tennessee won't be able to advance offensively without competent guard play, and until opponents respect perimeter scoring, the interior won't really open up. This needs to continue.
- Lock ‘em down. So obvious it's worth repeating, but Tennessee doesn't lose when they allow less than 0.9 points per defensive possession. Coincidentally, that's the mark Texas A&M needs to hit to be successful (although they did ugly it out against Arkansas; 65 possessions and 0.82 points per offensive possession). This is doubly important since A&M isn't scoring more than 0.9 points per offensive possession against teams with a pulse.
- Tempo? The one thing that isn't entirely figured out yet: what tempo does Tennessee want to play at? Lately, they've opted to grind it out more (they haven't broken 70 possessions since Rutgers). It seems like a conscious decision while most of the team was in a shooting slump, but now that some of the shooting slump seems to be broken, is it time to push tempo again? Is that something that's going to happen this season?
PREDICTION: 63-55 Tennessee. Pretty don't matter if it doesn't end in wins. Hooper's going with ....65-57. HIVEMIND ACTIVATE.
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