Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Saint Joseph’s

How Tennessee matches up

Plenty of opportunities to score all game long, just like last game

There’s only so much you can analyze from Tennessee demolishing overwhelmed opponents on loop, so I’ll try and keep this succinct. (Also, I have to write another one of these almost immediately because Tennessee slammed these games back-to-back.) Tennessee had one of its best nights offensively in modern program history on Friday night, posting a 1.421 PPP outing on the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech, their eighth-highest efficiency in the KenPom era.

Part of this was due to a fantastic shooting night, of course. Tennessee made nine of 19 threes for their best hit rate of this short season, and it was Josiah-Jordan James who looked especially comfortable from beyond the arc:

James is now 6-for-11 from downtown through four games – not a ton of attempts, of course, but an exceptional percentage of makes. In the preview (we’ll be revisiting this next Monday, by the way), I asked if James could help support Vescovi from downtown, along with finding a third shooter to support both of them. As of now, Tennessee appears to be solving this question well: Vescovi, Bailey, and James all have at least five made threes, with Jaden Springer right behind them at four.

Tennessee also had their best 2PT% night of the season, converting 33 of 53 (!!!!) attempts (62.3%). The Vols are hitting their beloved 13-footers at their usual good rate, but this game was important for a key reason: Tennessee got to the rim early and often. These Vols got 39 attempts at the rim against Tennessee Tech:

Eight players had multiple makes at the rim, a great sign of offensive diversity. 46 of Tennessee’s 72 shots came in the paint, with only 7 of 72 attempts not coming in the paint or from downtown. Personally, I love it!

Another way to get easy points, and something that will be very pertinent in this game: own the offensive boards.

Tennessee had another fantastic rebounding effort, posting a 37.5% OREB% and heavily limiting the Golden Eagles on the defensive boards. Considering St. Joe’s struggles in defensive rebounding, this could be a field day for the Vols.

A unique matchup defensively that could be a fairly good test

Defensively, this is Tennessee’s first real “test” of sorts since the Cincinnati game, mostly because this is kind of a unique team they’re going up against. St. Joseph’s is going to push the offensive pace from tipoff, which is something Tennessee hasn’t seen yet. The fastest-paced Vols opponent yet is Colorado, who ranks 152nd in average possession length. The Hawks: 28th. Tennessee’s got to get back in transition, as Jaden Springer did flawlessly here:

Also, as we discussed, the Hawks take nearly half of their shots from three. So far, Tennessee’s been more than happy to let opponents take a ton of threes – 46.9% of all shots, in fact, about 7.2% more than expected. This is mostly due to Tennessee’s interior defense being so frightening that opponents frequently have to resort to shooting over the top of them to have any hope at all of staying in the game. I thought Tennessee’s perimeter defense had its least-focused game in terms of guarding threes against Tennessee Tech, and the data backed that up. After an 18/1 Guarded/Unguarded split against App State, this became 8/11 against Tech. Tennessee’s got to do a better job of sticking to and with shooters, both in transition and half-court.

Also: active hands! The Hawks have had a solid year thus far in limiting offensive turnovers, and Billy Lange basketball is generally at least okay at limiting them. Still, Villanova forced turnovers on 21.5% of SJU possessions, and no defense St. Joe’s has played yet is even in the stratosphere that Tennessee has been in forcing TOs. (Auburn ranks highest at 95th in TO%; Tennessee is 11th.)

This could be a game where Tennessee does finally allow 60+ points to an opponent, but also a game where it takes said opponent 72 possessions to get there.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, three predictions

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