HOW TENNESSEE BEATS IT
Consistency does not exist for the Vols, so they might as well lean towards their good side
Bart Torvik has a feature on his site titled Game Scores, which ranks your team’s performance from 0 to 100. Back in the elder days of KenPom, Mr. Pomeroy used to use a Pythagorean rating, which demonstrated the percentage change your team would have to beat the average college basketball team on any given night. I can remember seeing one in the .9800s at one point, but never higher. Anyway, if you have a 92 Game Score, that’s the type of performance you’d expect from a team with a Pythag of .9200 or so. Here are Tennessee’s last ten Game Scores:
79, 44, 99, 83, 63, 85, 30, 96, 91, 21
Yeah, good luck figuring out this team. Somehow, the extremely undercooked team we saw over the first six weeks of the season was more consistent than the grown-together group we got by season’s end. In this stretch, Tennessee’s played like a top ~10 team three times:
And played like a team ranked 190th or worse three times.
It goes without saying that consistency of any sort is key for a team to grow together, and while Tennessee wasn’t consistent with much against Alabama last time out, they were consistently dominant on the boards and in shot volume. A similar formula will lead them to a win here.
Attack the rim and go through the post
We say the same thing every game, but it’s still true.
Offensively, we went over how Alabama’s struggled big-time to defend the rim as of late, with basically every offense on their schedule other than Texas A&M cooking them at the rim. (This was mostly because A&M made nearly half of their threes.) For a team that wants to play fast and loose, Alabama is awful at transition defense. Tennessee is far from a beacon of offensive efficiency when playing quickly – in fact, they’re almost worse than Alabama’s defense – but there is an opportunity in existence if they want it.
Likewise, Alabama’s been dreadful at defending cuts to the basket down the stretch of the season, and Tennessee loves a good basket cut.
I’d also look to generate as much post offense as possible. Tennessee should hold a sizable advantage here with both John Fulkerson and Yves Pons.
Even if neither are exactly perfect from the field, they’ll be in plus situations on the boards. Plus, when playing a team that fouls a lot, you want a true foul generator on your roster. Fulkerson, and Pons to a lesser extent, can be those pieces for Tennessee.
Other than that, you’ll see Tennessee take about a third of their shots from downtown. There’s nothing Alabama does truly terribly on the perimeter, and I think they guard threes fairly well. I’d try a pick-and-pop play for Pons to open things up a bit:
As well as a dribble hand-off for the suddenly awesome Jordan Bowden.
Protect the rim like you’ve done most of the season
Defensively, the scout on Alabama has become kind of easy: they take almost no mid-range shots at all, have started taking over half of their attempts from three, and don’t get to the rim as often as they once did. That said, Alabama is still solid in terms of scoring at the rim. Kira Lewis, in particular, is going to push the issue in the paint early and often. It may shock you to read this stat, but Tennessee ranks 8th nationally in FG% allowed at the rim.
They’re the SEC’s single-best rim defense. They’ve blocked 15.3% of opponent attempts at the rim over the last 10 games, which ranks fourth-best nationally. 1. (Howard Stern voice) That’s wild. 2. Tennessee’s got to take care of business.
Limit Alabama’s open threes as much as possible
The perimeter defense will be more pertinent, though. Tennessee has to be careful to not get sucked in on the numerous threes that will develop from Lewis drive-and-kicks:
Along with being able to get back in transition in a hurry and prevent Alabama from getting off a wide-open look.
In the first game, around 58% of Alabama’s catch-and-shoot threes were considered “unguarded,” per Synergy. Alabama made 45% of these open threes, with four of them coming in the first half.
Luckily for Tennessee, they tightened up defensively, and Alabama went 4-for-11 from deep in the second half after going 7-for-16 in the first.
If Tennessee can bottle their defensive energy from the second half – which also featured a couple ugly Alabama midrange attempts, I might add – they’ll be in good position to play on Friday.
NEXT PAGE: Apologies for how gross the lyrics are, but this is exactly what I’m talking about. I can remember this playing frequently on the afternoons on 102.9 FM circa 2001-2004 even though it’s from 1994 and it basically should not be played anywhere between the hours of 6 AM-9 PM. But this band isn’t on Spotify, and per their Last.FM page, only about 1-5 people on a site with 60 million users listen to this song each day