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Lady Vols @ Stanford, Preview and Game Thread

This has quietly been one of the best non-conference series in women's basketball over the last decade.

Knowing the Lady Vols, this is very possibly a missed bunny.
Knowing the Lady Vols, this is very possibly a missed bunny.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

TV/Stream: ESPNU / WatchESPN

Radio:  As dependable as Tennessee's defense.

Stats:  As effective as Tennessee's offense. (Actually, probably better; it's from the Stanford site.  At least it can't be any worse.)

It may not be a Tennessee-UConn-of-the-90s type of rivalry, but such a beast no longer exists anymore.  But since the 2008 national championship (a game between Tennessee and Stanford, incidentally), these teams have played in December every year.  Tennessee leads the all-time series 9-4, though Stanford has won those 4 games within the last 6.  Last year's game broke Tennessee out of the early-season funk; while the offense wasn't spectacular, the defense held a very good Tree to 40 points, and the team found the confidence they had sorely lacked.

This year, the two teams are something of each other's doppleganger.  While Tennessee lost to Virginia Tech at home, Stanford lost to Santa Clara at home.  Both lost to Texas, although Stanford did it in Austin.  The stats are largely similar: in (Tennessee/Stanford) order, the shooting percentages are (41.1%/41.7%) with Tennessee better in the paint and Stanford better from three.  Free throws are (72.5%/71.8%); rebounds/game are (37.1/35.9); A/TO are (0.9/1.0); and turnovers are (17.0/15.1).  Even overall points for and points against are within 15 on the season (594/577) and (501/490), although Stanford's done it with one less game (which means they score more and give up more).

We've covered Tennessee at a high level (short story: can't break a zone defense; in their own heads from three; great defense; a bi out of sorts on rebounding assignments).  So let's look at Stanford.

Rotation. Stanford legitimately runs 9 deep, in a way.  Defining legitimate depth arbitrarily as the number of players averaging 10+ minutes/game, the Marta Sniezek gets 13.4 at #9 in Stanford's order.  But really, it's more of a 4-players-and-a-committee situation, where forward Erica McCall gets 35.3, point guard Lili Thompson gets 31.1, guard Briana Roberson gets 29.8, and guard Karlie Samuelson gets 29.6.  Two Johnsons (Kailee and Kaylee) fill in the middle.

Stanford is obviously more productive on offense than Tennessee (O-PPP of 1.0 vs. 0.9, if you must know), and hasn't been quite to Tennessee levels of defense (D-PPP of 0.84 vs. 0.77).  The big threat is Lili Thompson, who leads in assists, shots taken, threes taken, free throws taken, free throw percentage, and is second or third in all other shooting percentages. Really, that about sums things up: she's deadly if left open, and she's good at finding open players for the assist.  Stanford's probably too good to play zone against, as Lili and company can reliably shoot the three, so likely this means on-ball defense to contest all her shots and support defense to prevent easy passes otherwise.  Andraya Carter figures to be big here.

On defense, if Stanford doesn't open up in a zone, they simply haven't scouted Tennessee.  At this point, there is zero reason to play anything else, and Stanford may very well have spent 100% of their defensive prep in a zone look.  If Tennessee somehow finds their way to a 30+% three-point percentage, then good game.  But shutting down Russell and Graves in the paint, as well as DeShields on the drive, is just too tempting to not employ.

Prediction: 62 - 54 Stanford. (This prediction brought to you by Hooper if you're currently sharpening your knives.)  The thing is, Tennessee's got everything to be a better team.  They simply haven't given reason to believe that their offense is capable of breaking down Stanford's defense in Maples.  both teams are flawed, but one can hit the occasional three.