To be quite honest, I thought the Appalachian State game went how I anticipated this one would go. Tennessee was so dominant defensively that it kind of hammered home how ahead of schedule they are as a unit, which is cool. If you are Tennessee Tech head coach John Pelphrey – kind of can’t believe I’m typing that? – this is much more of the nightmare variety, because your own team has struggled mightily to score against much worse competition than the Vols.
Essentially, this is the worst offense Tennessee’s likely going to draw in 2020-21. (Yes, worse than Kentucky’s is right now.) Tech ranks 343rd on KenPom in offensive efficiency, which would be depressing enough even before I told you they opened the season 325th. Despite Jr. (yes, his name is Junior, not J.R., and he prefers Jr.) Clay and Keishawn Davidson posting a combined 17-for-46 (37%) hit rate from three, they have a team-wide 3PT% of 25.5%. They’re seven games in and have topped a point per possession once: 1.004 PPP against Jacksonville State this past Sunday.
It would be one thing if Tech had an offense that created good shots, worked the ball around, generally tried to do the right things, but just didn’t have the players capable of taking advantage of these opportunities. That’s not really the case here. Shot Quality ranks the Golden Eagles’ offensive shot selection in the 4th-percentile nationally, the lowest of anyone on Tennessee’s schedule. Tech takes a lot of bad shots and they don’t hit ‘em:
As mentioned above, Clay and Davidson have done a good job of hitting their threes, which makes Tech’s team-wide three-point percentage of 26.6% (update) even more depressing. It’s simply a team full of guys that can’t buy a bucket right now:
Some of this is stuff worth giving Pelphrey slack over. Pelphrey himself became quite sick with COVID-19 just before the season started and missed the first few Tech games, watching from home. I’m guessing he hasn’t had nearly the amount of time he’d like to have around his players and his staff, working on a superior offensive game plan. However, I wonder if the system itself simply isn’t built for modern basketball. Tech’s offensive Shot Quality ranked in the 10th-percentile last season, with pretty similar shooting splits. To be fair to Pelphrey, we’re now heading into game #8 and Tech has rarely had all of their players available at the same time to my knowledge, but it’s still not helping anyone to look for bad shots while they’re missing.
Tons of ball screens
Let’s run through some basic stuff you’ll see in this fixture. Pelphrey’s team runs a ton of ball screens, with most possessions featuring at least one and nearly half ending by way of some sort of ball screen. Both Keishawn Davidson and Jr. Clay are primary ball-handlers in these sets:
Pelphrey will run these a lot, as has been his standard at Tech thus far. For what it’s worth, the roll man mostly serves as a fulcrum to create the screen; he doesn’t really get much action after. Tennessee will have to watch for collapsing too hard on these sets and allowing an open three, as TTU finds here:
Tennessee has done a phenomenal job on this so far, which we’ll touch on in a bit, so I can’t say I’m terribly worried.
More turnovers than an Arby’s
Also, uh, the Golden Eagles commit an immense amount of turnovers. Tennessee Tech’s sitting on a 25.5% turnover percentage thus far, which is among the bottom 25 nationally of teams who have been able to play a game or two. When you don’t get good shots, you don’t hit those shots, you don’t get to the free throw line often, and you turn it over a lot, you are probably going to have a bad time.
Interestingly, both Tech’s backcourt and frontcourt appear to be equally culpable for these errors. Here’s a frontcourt turnover to balance it out:
This could be another fantastic day for Tennessee’s defense. If it isn’t, that’s unfortunate, but we already got to witness one of the best defensive performances they’ve ever had just three days ago.
Here’s a quick scout on the main rotation. While I normally exercise a 10 minute per game limit, I’ve loosened that a little due to Tech’s COVID issues.
- Jr. Clay (PG). Again, named Junior, not Jr. Clay is Tech’s go-to guy when on the court, using about 32% of possessions. He loves pulling up off of ball screens for threes, and he probably has the best shot selection on the team. A pretty good passer, but a relatively poor finisher for a guard.
- Keishawn Davidson (SG). Murfreesboro’s own takes a lot of mid-range jumpers and runners, but he hits his shots better than anyone else on the team. Bad turnover rate.
- Damaria Franklin (SF). JUCO transfer that had 21 points in his first game and four in his second. Loves to drive to the rim, has also taken 43% of his shots from three.
- Austin Harvell (PF). Freshman with a 78.6 Offensive Rating, which is uh not good. 5/21 from three, 9/33 on anything not at the rim.
- Shannon Goldman (center). 6’10” center that takes more threes than twos! 26 threes to 18 twos this season, in fact. Unfortunately for Pelphrey, Goldman has hit four of those 26 threes.
- Dane Quest. Unfortunately, not Disney Quest. Most of his time comes at the 2 or 3, where he has taken just 15 shots in seven games. Alarmingly terrified of shooting, but has drawn a ton of fouls.
- Amadou Sylla. Backup center, easily the best rebounder on the team. Also the only quality rim protector. Why he’s not the starter is genuinely beyond me. He’ll get around 15-18 minutes.
- Tutujae Williams. Mostly at the 3 or 4, doesn’t take threes, commits a lot of fouls. Appears to have okay defensive numbers, though.
- Kenny White. Freshman from Madisonville, KY that plays anywhere from 1 to 4, which seems huge. White has been a solid scorer inside the perimeter and at least tries to take open threes. Lost his starting spot because Damaria Franklin is available.
NEXT PAGE: If you want a positive, the defense is just regular bad, not excruciatingly ugly