TV: SEC Network (and requisite online matching socks)
Radio: Mickey Dearstone World Tour
Stats: YAAAAY IT ISN'T OUR STATS
When 98% of us last left the Lady Vols, they were coming off a big road win at Oregon State. (Sure, they played Stetson last week, but check our game thread. Y'all weren't watching it, and neither were we.) Now, Tennessee will be kicking off SEC play in Columbia facing off against a Missouri squad that's gotten better over the last few years and looks to be positioned solidly in the middle of the SEC, which is a fancy way of saying they'll be in the NCAA tournament discussion.
Missouri also conveniently looks like a lot of teams Tennessee beat in November and December (before not beating those teams for a couple of games in there), although unlike most of those teams, they're undefeated. Their name wins look like ...Wake Forest? Colorado? Charlotte? Okay, so maybe their schedule is pretty Baylor-y. It happens.
Missouri's led by Sophie Cunningham, Jordan Frericks, and by and large the same core we've seen for the last two years. Both Cunningham and Frericks are primarily inside-the-arc types, supplemented by the Stocks (Maddie and Morgan) volume shooting from the perimeter. Again, it's stuff we've seen before—the usual guard-heavy aim and pray routine that mid-tier teams need to beat elite squads. Virginia Tech proved it can be done, going 9-19 from beyond the arc (compared to the Lady Vols going 1-19), but stop me if you've heard this before: Tennessee's going to have an advantage inside.
This means we're left with the same script we've seen in ...well, a good 70 Tennessee games in the last three years: play solid defense, get interior scoring, hope to get enough on the perimeter to come home with a win. That means—stop me if you've heard this before—guard scoring will need to matter.
Diamond DeShields has been efficient enough on offense and seems to do better when she gets the starting nod instead of coming off the bench. She's kind of a black hole on offense, but so long as her A/TO is within range of 1, everyone else outside the paint is so inefficient that I can deal with this, at least.
What I'd like to see eventually is DeShields working with Mercedes Russell, who also needs touches to be dominant. Bashaara Graves can dominate, but will also be fine enough chipping in 10 and 8 on the block getting garbage touches. Russell can't/won't/hasn't figured out how to function in that environment yet. It'll come with time, I think.
Expect this to be a little ugly on the offensive end, but you've long since come to expect that. Tennessee 61, Missouri 49. Hooper is slightly more offensively optimistic than I am, going with Tennessee 71, Missouri 65.