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Reprieve and Persist: Tennessee Lady Vols vs. Maryland Terrapins

A trip to Tampa's on the line in Spokane at 9 PM EDT.

Pictured: Burdick's reaction to our prediction further down in this post.
Pictured: Burdick's reaction to our prediction further down in this post.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

TV: ESPN / kinda sorta ESPN

Radio: I'm amazed Mickey hasn't keyed a ref's car these last two weeks

Stats: better never than late

So, first things first: Tennessee can't play the game they played against Gonzaga and win. Maryland's a 1 seed for a reason, They've won 27 in a row, won the Big Ten regular season and tournament (you know, see the 27-in-a-row thing), and are absolutely good enough to blow a Lady Vols squad not playing at their best off the court.

If you want to look upon numbers and despair, start with the TrueFG% numbers here. From what I can tell, there is literally one player you'd be okay with shooting (Leslie Kiara), a few you might be okay fouling (Brianna Jones, Tiffany Pfirman, and maybe Malina Howard), and that's it. There are a lot of A/TO ratios on that page greater than 1. They're not as tall as Gonzaga--most teams aren't--but they're tall enough where it matters.

They've won games allowing over 1.05 points per possession, scoring less than 0.95 points per possession, and at whatever pace you'd care to name. You don't get this far without being able to win in different ways, and Maryland has that covered. If Tennessee wins this game, it will be an upset. Maryland should be the favorite, but for a Tennessee squad that seems to exist to surprise everyone these days, there's always a way. I don't know what that way is, but if I had to guess it looks like this:

  • The game of your defensive life. If Tennessee allows their average of 0.8 points per possession, this would be Maryland's worst offensive game of the year. The Lady Vols should be able to play Maryland's length to a standstill on paper, but the Terps also bring speed. Andraya Carter has to limit whoever she's on (really, Laurin Mincy, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, and Lexie Brown are all good; it doesn't matter), Jordan Reynolds needs to lock down, and Alexa Middleton's defensive responsibilities need to be limited somehow. I'm less concerned about post defense, but Cierra Burdick is going to struggle keeping up with that trio. Jamie Nared: you want to play 40 minutes of defense?
  • Every single emotional edge you can find. This seems to be less of a concern than anything else, but Tennessee won't lack for emotional motivation. If that helps them grab a loose board or get in front of someone for a charge, so be it. Well, okay, I lied about the charge part: that'd require the refs to actually call one.
  • Shooting regression. Again, Tennessee can't shoot 33% from the floor. However, if they hit a few "how'd you do that?" shots early--which, let's be honest, are going to be of the midrange variety--then it may force Maryland to open up spots in their defense they weren't planning on. I expect the Terps will happily concede the 18-footer, and Burdick excepted, nobody's hit that shot on a regular basis. Counting on small sample size adjustments: not the likeliest, but sure.
  • Something stolen, something random. Maryland normally doesn't turn the ball over. Tennessee's defense is going to be one of the best defenses they've faced all year; if Tennessee can get a double-digit edge in transition buckets (seems nuts, but not that unlikely). As far as something random: have you seen these refs? They're awful, more or less across the board. Maybe the random contact generator goes in Tennessee's favor and Bashaara Graves gets to go 19-23 from the line or something.
PREDICTION: 78-69 Maryland. Hooper's going with 72-67 Maryland, but make no mistakes: not only can Tennessee win this game, even if they don't, is there any way you would've seen this team back in January and figured they'd have ended up here? The Lady Vols squad of February would've lost on Saturday night; this Lady Vols squad can make it to Tampa. It's not a question of belief on either of our parts: it's that this team is missing three key players, we don't trust the refs at all, and at some point, the tank's going just going to run out of gas. Nobody will be happier to be wrong.

MORE TIME FOR MOORE: Six minutes; she's a bit easier play against a slightly smaller Maryland squad, but extended breathers are likely what she'll be limited to.