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Road Trip: Lady Vols @ Wichita State, 8 PM Eastern

It's mid-December, and the Lady Vols are finally venturing outside Knox County.

For this to happen, the guards will have to, you know, get the ball inside.  Somehow.
For this to happen, the guards will have to, you know, get the ball inside. Somehow.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports




Let's address the gorilla in the room first: the losses against Texas and Virginia Tech.  Defensively, the Lady Vols are fine; holding a top 10 opponent to 64 points, and a top 25-ish to 57 should be sufficient for this much talent to win a game.  The issues are all on offense, where Tennessee seems to be stuck in neutral.  Since everybody's handing out judgments on the root cause (coaching and desire seem to be the top two options), here's mine: I suspect that it's a team of players who aren't used to setting up other players on offense, and they didn't get the hang of it in practice.  When they have the ball, there's a bit of a tendency to not work to get other players open or to set up passes for them.  When they don't have the ball, complementary offensive actions aren't often taken (shifting to draw off defenders, etc.).  It doesn't negate the coaching/desire suspicions (and plenty of prior LV teams have found ways to get 5 All-Americans to play nicely on the floor), but this team hasn't shown that transition yet.

Enter Wichita State.  1-5 Wichita State.

Frankly put: if Tennessee loses this one, it's a tire fire.  The Shockers only have eight players total, with a decent bit of height in the interior but not enough talent to hold up against the middle of the NCAA.  53 points/game, 24 boards/game, 17 turnovers/game, and a 10.5 FT rate aren't going to cut it.  This is the game where Tennessee can figure out their offense before the West Coast Death March begins.

The things we need to see:

  • Guards working to get the posts in position to succeed. Breaking zone defense comes down to guard play: either the guards shoot threes (more in a second), or they find entry passes to posts who can then abuse a defense that isn't facing the right direction.
  • Three point shots. Somehow, the Lady Vols have been beyond ugly from the perimeter.  1-19 3PT shooting won't work (and yes, that was the actual number against Virginia Tech).  Tennessee doesn't need to be deadly from three, but a pedestrian 6-19 would have won the game vs. VTech.  At least getting around 30% would help.
  • Off-ball motion. A part of the issue is a lack of energy without the ball.  This gets back to having a bunch of high-talent players who aren't used to playing roles, but it also speaks to a general mentality. 
  • Play to destroy, not to be good enough. My standard here is always the 1998 undefeated squad that would win by 40 and be pissed that the other team got 6 assists.  It wasn't enough to win; they were out to dominate every single second of the game clock.  There's no need to make friends on the opposite bench.

Prediction: 71-49 Tennessee. It's more a function of WSU than Tennessee.