TV: ESPN2 / so basically this link
Radio: and this audio
Stats: and this ...thing
It wasn't supposed to go like this. The good news? It's almost over, and we're almost free of what can pretty easily be called the Year from Hell. First off: as long as they win one game before the end of the SEC Tournament, Tennessee should still make the NCAA Tournament. (I think. I'd be very surprised if Tennessee gets left out, if only because of ticket sales.) Second off: this has been brutal for Bashaara Graves, Nia Moore, and Jasmine Jones to go out like this.
Jones had the toughest Lady Vol career of the senior class, losing significant parts of multiple seasons to concussions before making the wise decision to retire within the last couple weeks. It's tough to get a handle on what her growth curve was going to look like; she was always a strong on-ball defender whose shot selection completely drove us nuts. Had she been able to play, some of that shot selection might've improved, and who knows? I think she would've been fine enough had she not taken 2-3 shots a game where she was moving laterally when she went up for the shot. That being said, it's all in the past, and she's graduated already. Her life is ahead of her, and I completely understand getting out after how her last couple of years have gone.
Nia Moore was always a lanky bench type with gaudy block numbers and a weirdly effective offensive game. I always thought her block numbers were caused in part by her being the "last big" most of the time she was there (not a knock considering most everyone else she was here with ended up in the WNBA) so when she came in, that was the time everyone decided to drive to the hole. She should get a start today, and she's done well given the weird position she was in for most of her career.
That leaves Bashaara Graves, the lowest post of low-post players. She's flashed a midrange jumper at times, but she was always happiest right below the basket, fighting for boards and racking up free throws. I'm not convinced she has the Destroyer of Worlds gene we've always wanted her to have, but she's also gotten no luck in offensive spacing. She's great at high-low, looked utterly dominant at times, can play a couple inches taller than she is, and should be able to grab a roster spot at the next level.
If you don't want to watch this, I won't blame you. This year has been brutal to watch, and ....I mean, Golden State-Oklahoma City was an insanely good game and is also on ESPN3. I ain't gonna judge if you'd rather watch that. If you're ready for this year from hell to be over and that "Sim To End" button is tempting you, I get it. Bruce laid out the case for retaining Warlick in a well-written FanPost (go read it if you haven't yet), and I haven't weighed in on it because quite frankly I don't know.
I think Bruce is right about the leadership void, and I don't know how you solve that if nobody wants it. I think Bruce is right that it's taken Warlick a while to learn what the difference is between the assistant coach and the head coach, and that matters more when you don't have enough leadership on the court. (I think Warlick's game management is fine enough, for whatever that's worth; I wouldn't put that in the top 5 lists of Things About Warlick That Annoy Me.)
I think there's a fair argument this was going to be the route the offense was going to go under Warlick (although if you go that route, you've then got to answer what happened every other year).
I think there's a fair argument that given everything that's happened off the court, it's been too difficult to keep everyone's focus on the court. There's a difference between "my significant other broke up with me and I don't want to practice today" and this firestorm, and I don't know of any coach not named Pat Summitt who could deal with this entirely.
I think there's a fair argument that if Warlick has lost the room, that's it. Nobody coming in next year is going to change that significantly, and if that's the case, then she's got to go. You don't come back from this. (And yes, nobody coming in next year is a Big Deal.) I have no idea if this is the case.
So: we haven't really talked about it in these posts because we don't know. If i had to guess, if Tennessee makes the NCAA Tournament, Warlick is the coach next year. Maybe the atmosphere next year is less of a maelstrom and we have a chance to evaluate this team on the court without worrying about what's going on off of it. Maybe at the end of the day, Warlick was the Woman After the Woman and this is always how it was going to go. These conversations quite frankly exhaust me, because this is the zone of We Don't Know writ large. Derek Dooley? Yeah, he had to go. Donnie Tyndall? Yeah, he had to go. We don't have that here.
Regardless, none of this matters today and I think I broke the record for most disjointed Lady Vol preview in here. The hazards of publishing a first draft.. Georgia's in town, and although it's not the same Andy Landers-led Georgia teams that were good for a free win in previous years, I'd feel like a bit of a tool for not predicting a win here.
PREDICTION: Tennessee, 61-53.