Show Me My Opponent: Jacksonville State

LINEUP NOTES

Jacksonville State:

  • I made it this far without talking about the following insane thing: Jacksonville State has played 11 games this season. They’re already on their eighth different starting lineup, guys. EIGHTH. The most recent one is Hudson/Cook/Harden/Henry/Roub, one of which got any words in here.
  • The best defensive lineups are generally anchored by Henry, as he’s the best defensive player.
  • JSU regularly goes nine and ten-deep, so expect a lot of substituting. The most-used lineup above would convert to getting three minutes of run in a 40-minute game.

Tennessee:

  • Turner/Bowden/JJJ/Pons/Fulkerson. Same as it ever was.
  • Here’s the bench minutes for the last five games minus Florida A&M: Davonte Gaines 50, Olivier Nkamhoua 44, Drew Pember 23, Jalen Johnson 22.
  • I’ve said it a couple of times on Twitter, but let me say it here: I think the Jalen Johnson experiment is over. He’s the same defender he was his freshman season, and if he can’t hit threes at a 40% or higher clip, it’s hard to justify him getting any time on the floor. Johnson’s been at Tennessee for three seasons now, and he’s gotten completely blown by in the rotation by a freshman that’s as thick as a twig.

KEY MATCHUPS

Josiah-Jordan James vs. De’Torrion Ware. Here’s a handshake deal: if Josiah-Jordan James gets to 13+ points in this game, as he very well should against a mediocre defender, I’ll lay off on the “SHOOT, JOSIAH, SHOOT” stuff. It’s wrong to expect every freshman to be day-one ready to take over an offense, and it’s simply not Josiah’s game. That said, your leaders should theoretically be able to read the room and understand where they can fill in best. As it appears Jordan Bowden isn’t quite capable of this, the onus likely falls to James…or, well, John Fulkerson, the actual best player on the team.

John Fulkerson (also maybe Yves Pons?) vs. Jacara Cross. It’s Talkin’ John time. Realizing that a significant portion of the Tennessee fan base holds contempt for Fulkerson being any of the following at any given time – white, goofy, two inches too short, jumper-less, bad hair – I figured this would be an opportune time to expand on the Tweet I sent out during the Cincinnati game about Fulkerson being the team’s best player. It was partially a joke, but I’ve come to believe it as fact:

  • Fulkerson, despite being a 6’9″ center, has 15 steals in ten games, to go along with 11 blocks. Collectively, he’s #1 on the team in Stocks at 26.
  • No player is shooting better from the floor than Fulkerson, who’s 45-of-68 (66.2%). Is that because 65% of his shots are layups, tips, or dunks? Sure. But considering he shot 51.9% from two across his first 2.5 seasons at Tennessee, this represents a massive step in the right direction.
  • When Fulkerson is on the court, Tennessee’s Defensive Rating is 82.7, which would be the third-best team-wide DRtg in America.
  • Fulkerson leads the team in the following stats: Player Efficiency Rating (23.7), True Shooting Percentage (67.4%), Offensive Box Plus-Minus (4.8), Box Plus-Minus (11.2), Win Shares (1.7), and, hilariously, Points Per 40 Minutes (16.2).
  • The knock on Fulkerson forever has been his inability to contain himself when fouling, averaging 5.8 fouls per 40 from 2017-19. This year, he has it down to 4.3, and he’s played 26+ minutes in all but one game. Wasn’t that all we asked of one Kyle Alexander a year ago?
  • Fulkerson simply couldn’t hold onto a ball after his injury, resulting in a 31.6% TO%. This year: 18.4%, lower than Lamonte Turner, Olivier Nkamhoua, Josiah-Jordan James, and Jalen Johnson.

At this point, we’ve come too far in the Fulkerson Odyssey to ignore an actual turn towards being Good. Don’t ignore it any longer.

PREDICTION

Tennessee 71, Jacksonville State 51.

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