Show Me My Opponent: Georgia

HOW TENNESSEE BEATS IT

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Saturday’s game was a really gross one, a vision of basketball that I’d hoped was left in tenures past. Offensively, it was Tennessee’s worst-ever efficiency in a win, at least since that stat started being tracked. The game itself had extremely strong 37-36 vibes, though that game certainly did not end on a heroic charge. All in all: it was a win, and you move onward and hope and pray that you never shoot that badly ever again. The best offensive takeaway, other than John Fulkerson’s continued emergence as a pretty ideal role player, was Tennessee hitting 78.6% of their 28 free throws. That’s a key difference-maker in close games, and considering all but about three of Tennessee’s 16 remaining games project to likely be close, you can absolutely be happy with that.

The strangest thing about said game is that, on the whole, Tennessee had fairly agreeable shot selection. They took more attempts at the rim (12) than away (9).

Of Tennessee’s 31 threes, 24 were catch-and-shoot attempts, the best kind. 15 of them had no defender within four feet.

Without knowing the results, you’d look at that and feel Tennessee had a pretty good control of what type of shots they were getting. And yet: they made just 7 of their 40 non-rim attempts, the worst rate since the 2017-18 Mississippi State SEC Tournament game. They made just 2 of those 15 wide-open threes. That likely won’t happen again.

Get to the rim as frequently as possible

Offensively, if Georgia’s going to give Tennessee a relatively easy time at the rim, they should take it and run with it. Feed the ball frequently to John Fulkerson and Yves Pons in the post:

Convince Jordan Bowden that he is allowed to go to the rim; give Josiah-Jordan James the ball off of a cut play, as a treat.

Limit the mid-range shots as much as possible, because this is not the game to be barfing them up.

Three-point club has limited membership at this time. Please check back on 1/18/20 for re-evaluation of membership.

On the perimeter, Georgia’s caught in a weird spot between not wanting to give up many threes but not defending the actual shot very well. I don’t think Tennessee will get off a ton of threes in this one, but if they do, I have arrived at the following unsurprising conclusion: Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James should be taking the lion’s share of them.

Until Jordan Bowden gets out of the Springfield Mystery Spot, it is time for him to rest a little bit; since the Florida State game, he’s 12-of-59 (20.3%) from deep. That’s not a huge sample size, and we know he has a past of being a much better shooter…but until he’s able to de-funkify this stretch of play either mentally or physically, it’s better to let the actual good shooters shoot. (Others since VCU: Pons 7-of-25, Jalen Johnson 5-of-17, no one else above two makes.)

“If Tennessee can protect the rim they are going to win the basketball game.” – Booger McFarland

Defensively, this is both an easier and scarier gameplan, thanks to the majority of Georgia’s shots being usurped by two players. Tennessee knows to protect the rim and force a ton of tough twos, as they’ve done literally all season long.

It helps that no one on Georgia is a truly great shooter, so they can pack-line this deal a little bit and say “yeah, I think we’re cool letting the 30.5% three-point shooter jack ‘em up.” Is that a scary idea to think about, given the variance in three-point shooting that’s possible? Sure. But it’s easier to rationalize than letting Georgia hammer the rim over and over for easy twos.

Any sort of non-rim two should immediately be celebrated as a win because it’s a harder shot. Even if Georgia makes it, you kind of have to live with it.

They’ll push hard after a missed shot of any kind, so Tennessee may have to sacrifice a few potential offensive rebounds in order to force Georgia into a slower, more half-court oriented game.

Considering the Bulldogs rank in the 38th-percentile nationally in half-court offense, this is a sacrifice worth considering.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, prediction, unfortunately, no writing about the main guitar line(s) in The B-52’s “Lava”

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