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Lady Vols vs. Cowbell, 3 PM EST

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The Lady Vols host perhaps the cowbelliest MSU team ever in a top-20 matchup.

A good player finally gets a good season.
A good player finally gets a good season.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

CLANGA/CA-CLANGA:  SECN/ the '3.

CLANGACLANGA:  Mickalicious.

CLANGACLANG:  Just click here, then find the game's GameCast.

First, let me acknowledge MSU's rise in the SEC.  For most of the time I've followed the SEC standings close enough to do these previews, MSU has caused me to write things like this:

(Ok, how to respectfully put this next bit?)

With a SEC-winless Mississippi State coming into Knoxville, the expectation is certainly that Tennessee should have this game won by the opening tipoff, ...

And postgames like this:

Scoring a lot of points is tough work. After hoisting 91 on Kentucky on Monday, the Lady Vols needed some beauty rest. Fortunately, they found some against Mississippi State, who was happy to oblige a night of peaceful slumber en route to a 57-41 Tennessee victory.

This year, however, MSU comes into this game at 22-2 (7-2 SEC) and #18 in the AP, a far cry from the cellar-dwelling records they've known.  To be fair, their nonconference record isn't anything of note; they're currently #162 in SoS, which is holding them at a #40 RPI.  Their one notable noncon win is West Virginia.  In conference, they haven't faced a murderer's row, with Georgia (don't laugh) the marquee win to date, and a 1-1 series with Vandy and a loss to LSU.  They have yet to face Tennessee (duh), Kentucky, A&M, or South Carolina.

Still, they're third in the SEC and the last 2-loss team left outside of Tennessee and Carolina.  A win today puts three games between UT/Carolina and the field.

So Clanga State does:

  • Efficient offense. Their O-PPP is 1.013, which is a very high mark as an average.  Yes, opponents matter, but they get the ball inside to smart locations and generally shoot well.  Note, however, that their in-conference O-PPP has fallen to 0.895.  That kind of gap suggests that the soft noncon has indeed padded their stats.  Given that Georgia is their best conference opponent to date, there's opportunity for Tennessee to hold them below 0.8.  (LSU held them to 0.850, fwiw.  Missouri held them to 0.661 and Missouri lost.  Huh?)
  • Free throws. They hit 72% of their charity shots, which is pretty good in a conference that doesn't believe in free things.  Given how consistent the Lady Vols defense has been, this is really more ref-dependent than UT-dependent today, but it's worth noting.
  • Turnovers. MSU forces 23 TOs per game yet generally runs a halfcourt game (hi, Kentucky!).  In conference, that mark falls to 20/game, which is still commendable.  Ball control is important.
  • Three-point defense. Opposition 3P% is only 20.6% (24.5% in conference).  Part of that is having 7 players 6'-1" or taller, but part is just good defense.  (Aside: they carry 14 players, which I believe is too much, but it's worked so far, so I can't complain at the moment.)
  • Inside offense. Their leading scorer is forward Victoria Vivians with 14.5 PPG, their #3 scorer is Breanna Richardson (8.8 PPG), and #4 is Martha Alwal (8.3 PPG).  Second is 5'-5" Morgan William (9.5 PPG), but they run a lot of points through the inside.

Meanwhile, last we saw Tennessee they were busy beating Kentucky and Matthew Mitchell by a hair.  (/cough)  But we can, well, part with Kentucky for a while and focus on the opponent at hand.

How to beat them:

  • Battle of the posts. That last bullet point above should be a big clue.  MSU has made a living in the paint against lesser opposition.  Harrison, Graves, Moore, and Burdick will clearly be the best they've faced all year.  Just win this on both sides of the court and the rest should fall in line.
  • Ball control. Why give them free possessions?  Take care of the ball.
  • Dictate pace. It almost doesn't matter if it's fast or slow - just so long as Tennessee makes the decision.  MSU has slowed down from 76 possessions/game (total) to 69 (conference), which suggests that tougher competition is bogging them down a bit.  Use halfcourt play to keep things composed, but break out the speed when it's available.  If they can force MSU to run their forwards up and down the court, fatigue could easily play a factor in the final ten minutes.  Just don't be Kentucky-stubborn about it.

PREDICTION: 75 - 61 TENNESSEE. MSU's good inside.  Tennessee's better.  Chris is going with 69-54, so we're really only differing on efficiency and/or pace, but not on the relative gameplay.

MORE TIME FOR MOORE: Somewhere between the 12- and 16-minute timeouts of the first half (the first two media timeouts, to be clear).

YES REFS, WE REMEMBER YOU: They didn't get any of Kantner, Mattingly, or Enterline in the last game.  But today's the Super Bowl and they have seniority, so all bets are off.  Still, the odds are ... medium-low?  MSU isn't a draw, even sitting alone in third in the SEC.  But being free of all three in the last game...