If you missed Part 1, it's over here. Part 2 of our assessment of the Tennessee program is below.
Where's Holly Warlick stand from a job security standpoint?
Chris; She's fine. She's fine for multiple reasons, namely SEC titles (regular season and tournament) and multiple Elite Eight berths. It's hard to follow a legend, and there are some warning signs here (read: next year's recruiting class, the same team issues cropping up over and over again), but pulling the trigger this early isn't going to happen.
There's a more cynical response if you're into it: she's fine because there's no way Dave Hart is going to pay money to buyout a women's coach. The end result doesn't change.
While we're here: Tennessee spends the 14th-most nationally on their women's basketball program (per the most recent data I could find). That's sixth in the SEC (behind Texas A&M, Auburn(!), Kentucky, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt(!!)), and they're roughly revenue-neutral at around $4.2 million. There's a pretty decent correlation between spending and success: UConn, Notre Dame, and Baylor are the top three spenders on women's basketball. It's difficult to keep up with those squads if you're not spending on the same level—UConn and Baylor are spending about 50% more than Tennessee, by way of comparison.
Warlick in some ways is bearing the brunt of decisions and development that have nothing to do with her—the long-term effects of Pat Summitt raising the profile of women's basketball (and yes, others, but you're reading this on Rocky Top Talk so you best believe it's only due to CPS) and other teams catching up financially and organizationally. It's tougher to win now than it was 15-20 years ago, and that's great for the sport. It does make it harder to coach at elite institutions, but that comes with the territory. It doesn't absolve losing to Virginia Tech, but the trajectory isn't purely defined by what's happened on the court.
There are things to be worked on, for sure (read: offense), but they aren't complete deal-breakers at this point in time.
Hooper: Yup. Hart's not about to think about canning Warlick unless Lady Vols revenue drops to the point where it hurts the men's teams. And even then, it's questionable; at worst, they'll pull the "Lady Vols" name off their uniforms and move on.
Setting aside UT's internal politics, Warlick's job security will be a function of March, not December. Even as a 6 seed in the tournament, if she gets to the Final Four she's golden. An Elite Eight keeps her safe. Losing in the first weekend would make things interesting, but likely not much before that.
Let's re-address this in February and see if the offense is functional.
What's changed in how you saw the team before the season started?
Chris; I don't feel as great about Tennessee's ability to make the Final Four compared to how I felt about it at the start of the season. Ask me in March and I may give you an entirely different answer, but the offense isn't at the level it needs to be at to succeed at the highest level. The defense is absolutely there, though; as long as Tennessee doesn't break down, it's very difficult to score against this team.
The same story holds for the SEC. I see no reason the Lady Vols won't be competitive in both the regular season and post-season (again, check how we were feeling this time last year if you doubt that). The talent is there, especially outside-the-post scoring talent, and based on Warlick's past record as head coach, they'll get enough figured out to be fine in the SEC.
Hooper: Like Chris said, "now" doesn't feel so good. Both losses should have been wins, had Tennessee merely been kind-sorta-functional vs. the zone. It's hard to give an excuse for that, to be honest; it was their Achilles' Heel last year as well, and they had an entire offseason to fix it.
That said, they're not missing a thing. They have Russell/Graves inside, and Moore is more than competent as a post backup. Nared is the three that everybody else is missing. (The three slot is basically the throwaway slot in women's BB, so having a good one unbalances the floor a bit.) Te'a shows flashes of being a four-year point and just needs to acclimate a bit more (oh, and calm down, but the two are somewhat synonymous). Reynolds and Carter have been a bit underwhelming, but they're probably still figuring out their roles with Cooper and DeShields around.
And DeShields? Either she'll be the player Mickey has been fawning over all summer, or she'll find her role in the Reynolds/Carter/DeShields rotation. The former is strongly preferred, but either answer is fine so long as they figure it out.