Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Tennessee Tech

Defense

Not the worst on Tennessee’s schedule!

This isn’t any good either, though it’s significantly less bad than the offense. Pelphrey pretty much entirely runs man-to-man now, a small departure from the 2-3 zone he flashed during his time at Arkansas. Hey, I’m bored, here’s a clip of it:

That’s Vol For Life Cameron Tatum hitting an open three against a 2-3 zone in 240p. For a few reasons, I don’t expect Pelphrey to run a zone in this one. They haven’t touched it for more than ten possessions, and seven of those came against Indiana in the opener where they didn’t have a full roster available and needed to keep guys on the court. Coupled with the fact Tennessee did a very good job of breaking down the App State zone when it was briefly run, I don’t think Tech will make the same choice.

Anyway, I like looking at that three because it’s a wide-open one, and it lends itself to the discussion of how much a defense controls the opponent’s three-point percentage. Under Synergy’s Guarded/Unguarded metric during the years I’ve had a subscription, Unguarded/”open” threes have consistently been made at about a 5% higher rate than Guarded ones. In that sense, you do have some amount of control on three-point defense. I bring this up becuase Tech’s Guarded/Unguarded rate of 55/45 is right at the national average, but opponents are making less than 30% of their threes:

That’s a guarded miss, and a solid-enough defensive job, but here’s one where Indiana’s best shooter gets an open look and simply doesn’t hit it:

This Tech number was even lower before Jacksonville State hit 11 of 29 threes in a 74-50 win on Wednesday. (I pulled up this game to watch it during a Christmas gift-wrap session when Jacksonville State led 18-10. I turned it off about 10 minutes later when Jacksonville State led 41-14.) With Appalachian State, they at least had an absurdly good Guarded/Unguarded rate headed into the game driven by small sample size, and they largely backed it up: 14 Guarded, 6 Unguarded catch-and-shoots for Tennessee. I don’t have the same faith in Tech.

Anyway, their defense has been just regular mediocre thus far, with the lone real positive being that 3PT% allowed. (Opponents are also only 67% from the free throw line, but free throw defense does not exist.) Tech is giving up a 55% hit rate on two-pointers, one of the worst rates in the nation. It hasn’t really mattered if these shots have come at the rim:

Or on a shorter pull-up from the paint:

They can’t really stop any opponent of decency for a full 40 minutes. Jacksonville State just shot 36-of-54 (66.7%) on twos across a pair of games – 239th-in-KenPom Jacksonville State, mind you, who hadn’t topped 57% on twos against any opponent before playing Tech. Per CBB Analytics, over 51% of opponent shots against Tech have come in the paint, which is…not good. Part of being a good defense is forcing your opponent to take bad shots, and Tech simply doesn’t do that.

I feel like I’m piling on at this point, so I’ll try and skip over their inability to cover threes created by ball-screens or their serious struggles in post defense. It’s unfair to harp on them too much, because it’s a COVID season and this is a coach in just his second year at Tech. But I like being honest in these, and if I’m being honest, being in this bad of a position when Tennessee just got done playing a second-year coach who has his team in their best position in a decade seems like a bad sign.

NEXT PAGE: Tennessee is going for a few records

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