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Lady Vols vs Albany, Noon Eastern

Any game is better than heading to the mall on Black Friday.

You know, I don't think we've ever used a Jasmine Jones title image before.
You know, I don't think we've ever used a Jasmine Jones title image before.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Video Stream: Just mind your data if you're watching this while stuck in traffic.

Online Radio: Or, you know, just listen to Mickey while stuck in traffic.

Live Stats: Or use the broken GameTracker if you want to throw your phone while stuck in traffic.

Last we left the Lady Vols, they were busy bricking threes while Chattanooga nearly pulled off the upset in Knoxville that they've been dreaming about for the last few decades.  Tennessee had established a 26-7 lead in the first ten minutes, cruise-controlled to the same margin at halftime, and then decided they no longer needed Russell or Graves to contribute on offense, allowing Chatt to creep back to a 2-point nailbiter at the end.  (It was within two much sooner than that, but the guards finally passed the ball in the direction of the posts, who kept UT far enough in front to make Chatt's last-second three a moot point.)

In short, we're beginning to get a picture of this year's Lady Vols: incredibly strong in the paint, with worlds of potential at the perimeter, and an unnerving ability to let a team off the hook when the kill shot is available.

The upside here is that Tennessee was on their fourth game in nine days, and really hadn't had much chance to address issues that were already apparent from the previous outings.  Today, they will have had three days between games and some much-needed practice time, as well as some downtime on Thursday with no classes and lots of food.  They should be a refreshed team, and hopefully with an improved sense of guard play on offense.

All that is to say that Albany will be a more meaningful game for Tennessee than anticipated before the season started.  #8 Texas rolls into town on Sunday, so today is the last live-fire opportunity to check progress before a potential seed-deciding matchup takes place (if both teams are, say, 4 and 5 by the end of the season, the head-to-head might sway the committee's decision on seeding).

Albany is one of those teams that does better than you'd think: with 27, 28, and 26 wins in the last three respective years and two automatic NCAA bids in the last two, it's clearly a successful program for a small conference (America East, if you were curious).  They do have some height with 6'-4" Veronika Lavergne, and 6'-2" Tiana-Jo Carter and Heather Forster, but Lavergne is a freshman who gets about 12 minutes off the bench, and Forster gets only about 7 minutes.  That leaves Carter as the primary method to handle both Russell and Graves, which ... yeah, good luck have fun.

For a 4-0, consistently conference-winning team, Albany has been surprisingly mediocre at three-point shooting, which is great news for Tennessee.  The Great Danes are averaging 21% from the perimeter so far, though they're only taking about 20% of their shots from three.  (UT is at 23% on the year, taking 24% of their shots from deep, so make the appropriate mental comparisons.)  Of Albany's 42 3-PT attempts, 31 have come from Erin Coughlin, who has only made 4 of those shots count.  If you're looking for the obligatory struggling guard who has their Unexpected Career Day Vs Tennessee(TM), she is your candidate.

Albany is otherwise, decent-ish at free throws, average from the field, and good at rebounding so far this season.  Their strengths have been avoiding fouls, assists, and creating steals, so it's a team that seems to believe in off-ball contributions.  Zakiya Saunders and Imani Tate both do well giving assists, and both play about 37 minutes, so it'll take more than one on-ball defender to shut the assists down.

Overall, it's a 13-deep roster, which is probably the right number; any more and managing the field gets unwieldy.  Of the 13, they run a 7ish rotation, with all starters getting 20+ (4 of whom are at 29+) and only two bench players over 10 minutes.  They're also senior- and junior-laden - 3 and 6, respectively - so they should represent themselves well on the road.

The keys for Tennessee are obvious: abuse the absurd advantage of Russell and Graves; take threes but don't get stupid about them; keep Saunders and Tate uncomfortable when they have the ball; and be mindful of Albany's tendency to steal.

And for cripe's sakes, don't start comparing Black Friday shopping lists once the lead goes double digits.

Prediction: 86-57 (Hooper), 78-58 (Pendley). They're rested, they've had a chance to address some known issues, and Albany has zero answer for Nia Moore, much less Mercedes Russell and Bashaara Graves.