Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Colorado

How Tennessee matches up

This section is going to be short by nature, but will also be GIF-heavy. 2020-21 Tennessee has literally zero useful game footage ready to roll, so I’m very reliant on keeping things basic to start. Here’s five questions I’d like to see Tennessee answer on both ends of the court.

How much of an advantage can Tennessee create in the post with John Fulkerson and more creative Yves Pons usage? It makes sense that, at first, Tennessee’s going to rely fairly heavily on their older players. As Barnes himself said yesterday, this is one of the first times Tennessee’s old and young guys have been in the same building together, which means they’re still all learning to grow as a team. As such, it makes sense to feed Fulkerson the ball in the post early and often and let him go to work. Fulkerson’s going to have tough competition in the post with Colorado’s big guys, but it’s not as if he didn’t go up against similar competition last year and have lots of success:

On the flip side, Tennessee needs to get more creative with finding spots of opportunity for Yves Pons in the post. When I talked to Simon Gerszberg of this offseason, he specifically pointed out Pons’ post-ups as an area where Tennessee needs to improve. Pons got just 0.902 PPP on these plays, and as the season wore on, he struggled to find points off of his beloved mid-range jumpers:

Instead of committing to these lower-quality shot attempts, I’d like to see Tennessee get the ball deeper in the post to Pons or allow him room to drive from the perimeter. Tennessee’s guards could draw enough attention away from Pons to free him up for one of his favorite things in the world: dunking.

More of this and less of the 11-foot jumper bricks, please.

Can Tennessee get Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James more catch-and-shoot threes? On the Shot Quality front, Gerszberg pointed out these two as shooters he’d like to see Tennessee target. (Victor Bailey also counts here, but I refrained from including video from Oregon games from 2018-19 because I’d rather just see how he looks in orange.) Both Vescovi and James had a ton of success on catch-and-shoot attempts last year, and both should get more open looks by way of better spacing and more offensive talent this season.

Vescovi is prone to taking a lot of pull-up jumpers off of ball screens or in isolation, but he’s a far better shooter when someone else does the dribbling work for him:

Likewise, I’d like to see Josiah-Jordan James either show great improvement on his pull-up mid-range twos (21-for-70, or 30%, last season) or work to eradicate these shots entirely. They were frustratingly useless last season, especially for a player who showed serious efficiency (36.7%) from three. On catch-and-shoot opportunities, James was a spectacular 40.3% (25-of-62) beyond the arc, with a good chunk of them being well-guarded looks.

Let it fly, fellas.

How much one-on-one play will we see offensively? Colorado’s defense is generally excellent at forcing opponents to go deeper into the clock and work hard for their two-point buckets. When Tennessee was asked to go deep in the clock last year, they were surprisingly good at finding success. Synergy tells me Tennessee’s 2019-20 offense ranked in the 85th percentile in the last 4 seconds of the shot clock. Sounds great! Unfortunately, even the 85th percentile offers a PPP rate that’s nearly 7 points per 100 possessions worse than the overall half-court rate. No one loves shots like these, to be honest.

Tennessee’s got to find their sweet spot and keep Colorado from frustrating them into long, fruitless possessions. I feel a little more confident about Tennessee’s ability to score in more isolated situations simply by way of having Johnson/Springer on the roster, but it’s not a load I’d like to ask them to carry in their first college game.

Can Tennessee force Colorado into longer twos? Not many opponents get Colorado to take a ton of bad shots, but it’s fairly possible. Colorado took around 25% of their shots as non-rim twos last winter, and so far this year, they’ve constituted over 32% of the field goal attempts. McKinley Wright (8-of-14) and Dallas Walton (4-of-6, mostly just post-ups that are 6-foot hook shots) have shown a quality efficiency on longer twos, but the rest of the roster is just 4-of-21. That tracks well with last season. Wright was 47-for-98 (48%) on these longer twos, but all other Buffaloes combined for a 36.1% hit rate. Of Tennessee’s late-season opponents, only Florida showed a similar propensity for bad shots, and Tennessee was more than happy to let them take them:

With Walton and the rest of Colorado’s frontcourt, this is more about forcing Colorado’s post work away from the basket as opposed to somewhat easier layup attempts. Fulkerson was very good at this at times last year:

I’m excited to see how Tennessee combats a smart coaching staff in this regard.

Will Tennessee’s perimeter defense be more aggressive than it was the last two years? Explored this in more depth in the preview, but yeah. I need to see Tennessee force a good amount of turnovers in this one. Through two games, Colorado hasn’t had any serious trouble on the turnover front, which does not track with their offensive identity under Boyle. The last three Boyle squads and six of the last seven have ranked below the national average in offensive TO%, and only by a hair did the 2019-20 Buffaloes break an astounding eight-season streak of possessing a team-wide negative turnover margin. If Tennessee’s depth on the perimeter is as legitimate as we think, this should be more of a return to a 2017-18 style of perimeter defense where Tennessee is averaging an opponent TO% rate near 20% per game.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, and predictions

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