TV: ESPN2 / ESPN2+1
First, a recap of the SEC standings: South Carolina will clinch at worst a tie for the outright regular season title with a win in Knoxville tonight. Tennessee is in the squishy middle, with eight teams within a game of the Lady Vols' 6-5 record (Mississippi State has a slight amount of separation at 8-4 in-conference, but that's it). There's still a lot to play for, and Tennessee has played far better at home this year (11-3) than they have on the road (4-6).
South Carolina is undefeated against their non-UConn opponents this year. This may be ugly.
The Lady Vols have displayed a lot of mental signs of ...well, either youth or weakness, take your pick, shutting down offensively for a quarter at a time and blowing chances to close out games against good opponents. Fortunately, we saw this once already this season thanks to the football team, so we can all save ourselves some reading (and writing) time because the same things apply: you ain't gonna learn how to close out a game until you close one out.
Meanwhile, off the court stuff like this is happening. This game won't do anything to dispel rumors; Tennessee isn't good enough or consistent enough to beat this South Carolina squad, and man that feels like a weird sentence to write.
In theory, South Carolina sets up like a team Tennessee can handle or at least hang withâstrong interior game, with decent but not great scoring once you get outside the paint. The problem: South Carolina does everything that Tennessee does better. This is the top of South Carolina's cycleâthree seniors pull down an average of 77 minutes between themâbut the best shooters are sophomore A'Ja Wilson and junior Alaina Coates, both of whom play inside. Tennessee has Bashaara Graves, who can't win a 2-on-1 battle like this, not that anyone at the college level could.
Tennessee can lose this game and still have a decent chance at finishing 10-6 in-conference; home games against Ole Miss and Georgia are winnable, and Alabama and LSU are among the worst teams in the SEC. (LSU is incredibly tire-fire-y this year.) There's still time to recover, and 10-6 should put Tennessee ...well, at worst into the 5 seed. Get above that and the Lady Vols get another day off; get below that and Tennessee's on the other side of the bracket from South Carolina.
If Tennessee can win this game, it'll be huge in pulling a lot of heat off this team. Can you see a way that'll happen, though?
PREDICTION: South Carolina, 78-61. Hooper is going with 71-58 South Carolina, too.