Stats: the stats link wasn't live when I wrote this; will I remember to update it, and if I don't, will anyone care?
Operation Make People Want To Watch This Lady Vols Team did its job over the past week with comfortable wins over Alabama and Arkansas at home. The difficulty ratchets up a couple of ticks with a road trip to top-15 Texas A&M led by the same Courtney combination we've seen over the last few years in Courtney Walker (the strong, efficient one) and Courtney Williams (who clocks in with a Simmonsian 0.85 points per weighted shot).
At this point Texas A&M has been in the league long enough that we know what a Gary Blair team will do; play at a moderate pace with plus defense and try and work the midrange game enough to pull out wins. In previous years, Tennessee's been able to use the "we do that too, just better than you" card on offense, roll out the 3-2 zone on defense, and pull out some tough wins against the Aggies. It's probably a similar script this year, minus that card.
The nice part for Tennessee: Texas A&M probably isn't going to hurt you from beyond the arc. Jordan Jones is the only perimeter shooter to be concerned about, and by design Texas A&M is going to want the 15-footers-and-in, which in turn forces the Lady Vols into needing more of a paint-and-interior lineup. These lineups are the team strength, although maybe not Holly Warlick's strength (he said, holding onto the theory that we still haven't seen the kind of roster construction Warlick really wants yet).
Beyond that? Man, I'm out of ideas. Quite frankly, I took a break from watching the team for a week as a stress relief (and I'll miss this game through no fault of my own). It seems like Tennessee may be pulling the February-into-March fun run they've done pretty much every other year, but it's also Alabama and Arkansas, you know? For all our frustrations with Tennessee basketball, this is a pretty good matchup for them and a win against a top-15 road team should restore some confidence in the squad. At this point, a loss isn't the end of any world; if the Lady Vols were still ranked after going 12-8, they're not in any real danger of anything tourney-wise from what I can tell.
The main thing that Tennessee should be concerned about is seeding in the SEC Tournament. Staying away from South Carolina before Sunday is paramount, placing the Lady Vols into this weird 2-3-6-or-7 thing. At 5-4 in-conference, they'll need to do some work to get up to the 2/3 line (two games behind both Mississippi State and Florida), but the winner of the game today puts themselves in a decent spot to jump into the top 3. More importantly, the winner of this game puts themselves in a decent spot to get that extra day of rest.
PREDICTION: Texas A&M 63, Tennessee 57. (Hooper: TAMU 66, UT 61.) The signs are there, but we're not buying in yet.