Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Appalachian State

How Tennessee matches up

Offensively, shot selection needs improvement

Something important to keep in mind in COVID times: any win is a good one. Tennessee has often looked sloppy in their first two games against Top 50 and Top 70 opponents, but they’ve come out on the other side with a pair of nine-point wins, and the ability to keep the W in your corner is what matters most. This is not that important to the rest of the preview, but with the fanbase’s ability to nitpick a result or results to oblivion, it felt necessary to type out.

Anyway, time to nitpick. Tennessee’s offense has looked quite buggy through two games, which isn’t terribly surprising given the frequent stops and starts of this offseason (and even this regular season), but there’s a couple of things worth diagnosing that should be fixable. I’ve referenced him numerous times, but Simon Gerszberg’s tools over at Shot Quality are simply fantastic. Defensively, you don’t need anyone to tell you how fantastic Tennessee has been both from the process and the results, but offensively, Tennessee needs improvement.

Through two games, Tennessee’s offensive shot quality, which is adjusted for opponent, ranks in just the 61st-percentile nationally. That isn’t good, and yet it’s an improvement from ranking in the 49th-percentile post-Colorado. That lines up with what I generally thought, especially when Tennessee was going against Colorado’s zone. In that one, Tennessee took nearly half of their shots as non-rim twos, the least-efficient shot there is.

Against Cincinnati, Tennessee took a similar percentage of non-rim twos, but it wasn’t at the expense of their shots at the rim. The Vols got 21 layup/dunk/tip attempts, 13 more than they did against Colorado. Tennessee only converted seven of these, which is why the game was as close as it ended up being. If Tennessee simply converts quality opportunities like these, life will naturally become a lot easier:

If I had to give grades for Tennessee’s process through two games – not the results – I’d say it was a solid C against Colorado and more in the B or even B+ range for Cincinnati. Tennessee had one of their worst shooting days ever, but it wasn’t totally influenced by the shot selection they had. If Tennessee can take a step or two in on some of these mid-range looks and get within ten feet, as Jaden Springer does here:

That’s more of what you want on the non-rim two front. Essentially, the fewer 11-20 foot shots Tennessee takes, the happier I’ll be. I recognize that no Rick Barnes team is going to ever make these shots less than 28% or something of their offense, and I’m used to it by now, but it’s all about taking the right kind of statistically-scary shots. Tennessee should have numerous opportunities, both against man-to-man and against the zone, to get better shots against Appalachian State.

Turnover printer go brrrrrr

On the other side of the ball, I’m not sure you even need a preview, because Tennessee is just beating the [REDACTED] out of everyone who shows up, including (incidentally!) their own players. In terms of the shot quality they’re forcing, it’s been tremendous. Cincinnati only took six non-rim twos on Saturday, but most of their 24 rim attempts were very well-defended:

And I was perfectly fine with letting a poor shooting team take 28 threes. They hit eight, which was mildly annoying to watch unfold, but Tennessee actually did an excellent job of making the threes hard. I liked this well-guarded attempt that didn’t go down:

Considering Tennessee’s about to play a team that takes a ton of threes, I feel very confident that they’ll close out hard and make these threes as difficult as they’re able to.

Lastly: the turnovers, man. I can’t get enough of it! More turnovers!

Stop the steal! These guys are monsters. Tennessee held Colorado to their lowest offensive efficiency in six seasons and held Cincinnati to their second-lowest of the last five years. For them to be this good already seems unfair, because it still feels as if there’s some amount of untapped potential.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, three predictions

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