Road games: still a thing, but a less scary thing (why is this game on ESPNU while UK-Tennessee was on SECN?)
Be horrible? amazingly you won't be (try the Gamecast link, avoid the auto-play radio feed)
The Lady Vols have three major games before the end of the regular season: vs. Kentucky, at South Carolina, and at Georgia. Those of you who noticed the opponent they're playing today will also notice they're not on that list.
We're RPI hawks at Rocky Top Talk this year (Tennessee's RPI as of today, by the way: 2), which among other things is why we were fairly dismissive of Mississippi State (RPI: 36). Florida's RPI: 169, highlighted by losses to St. John's, at Savannah State (does Jeremy Foley know they're scheduling out-of-conference games out of state?), and vs. Eastern Washington. This is not a good team; they're the worst RPI team Tennessee's faced since Lipscomb, although I'm also contractually obligated to note they beat Auburn at Auburn by more than Tennessee did (13 vs. 9). You have to go back to the Baby Vols to see a loss to a team that's even half Florida's RPI-they lost to Kentucky that year, who had a RPI of 86.
So yeah, Tennessee's winning this game. They've shown signs of road life, but this is exactly the kind of game they've been prone to mailing in. That being said: they did beat Kentucky in Lexington, so there are signs they can put together 40-minute efforts on the road. They do that in Gainesville and they'll win by 25. How will they get there?
- Limit second (or first!) possessions. Florida is not a tall team for one, and they have basically four players worth noting: Kayla Lewis, Ronni Williams, Cassie Peoples, and Cartie Needles. They all bring their own skills, but their offensive game basically is Peoples threading it to the other three, who are all decent shooters. However: Lewis is the only plus rebounder and fully half of Florida's games have featured a turnover rate north of 25%. Pressure defense and limiting offensive boards should be enough, because Florida doesn't play particularly fast. Unnecessary bonus: Williams is a fouling machine.
- Good defense. This is simple: Florida is 4-11 when they shoot an eFG% at or below 50%. Those wins: Charleston Southern, Arkansas, Stetson, North Florida. I think only three teams have shot an eFG% above 50% against Tennessee; Notre Dame, Chattanooga, Texas. Those teams are slightly more talented than Florida, and their RPI sistren typically shoot in the 35% range. I mean, this is obvious, but they're probably going to be okay here.
- Break 0.8 points per offensive possession. Let's set the bar low, because Florida is 5-11 when their opponents break that barrier. If you'd like even better odds, go for 0.9 points/possession (1-7). Tennessee's been below 0.8 O-PPP once (Rutgers) and 0.9 O-PPP four times (Rutgers, Wichita State, Georgia, Texas). Low bars.
- Actually show up to a road game. The toughest matchup in this game will be Lady Vols vs. Road Game, honestly. They'll win, but we can count the number of good road performances on one hand-well, one finger. Fortunately, that was the last road game they played. For the Lady Vols to make noise in March, they need to lay the hammer to over-matched opponents. They're talented enough to likely get to the SEC Tournament semis and the Sweet 16 without doing too much, but staring down a likely Round 3 with Kentucky or Round 2 with LSU, MSU, or TAMU, anything less than a full effort won't get the job done. Winning a Sweet 16 game in a neutral site entails beating a Top-10 type team. They've done it once; now blow out an opponent on the road who doesn't deserve to hang around.
PREDICTION: 71-56 Tennessee. Better than some of the kicking-a-dead-squirrel games they've had so far, but let's be nice and assume it's a 12-point lead at the half and Florida gets lucky from downtown or something. Hooper's going all-in with a 78-57 win.
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 12 minutes, because I'm also betting on Lisa Mattingly. MISS YOU (don't miss you at all please stay away).
BONUS OFF-HOURS REMINDER: South Carolina plays UConn tomorrow, and we don't capitalize every single letter in UConn here because UCONN IS NOT AN ABBREVIATION AND YOU DON'T GET TO TALK IN ALL CAPS UNLESS YOU'RE YELLING. Seriously, knock it off, ESPN.