Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Missouri (#1)

How Tennessee matches up

Shoot your shots

True to form for Rick Barnes and non-conference basketball, Tennessee largely hasn’t run anything special and, for the most part, hasn’t needed to. They’ve only run the Zone America play they ran for Jordan Bowden all the time just once:

They won’t have to in this game, either, because Missouri exclusively runs a man-to-man system. Largely, Tennessee hasn’t had to rely on the three to deliver offensive success, and they aren’t really built to. Their starting lineup offers three true shooters, a fourth quasi-shooter in Pons, and an exclusively inside-the-perimeter guy in Fulkerson. In some ways, it’s just like Cuonzo’s 4-in, 1-out motion, but obviously, Fulkerson frequently comes outside the perimeter to help with offensive movement.

What this will come down to is something very simple: can Tennessee get and hit the same shots they’ve gotten against weaker competition? It’s been all about the 4-10 footers for Tennessee against their six opponents, and Missouri is largely okay with giving these (and 11-20 footers, obviously) shots up:

What Tennessee can’t get into is a situation where they’re taking longer, less-efficient twos. Against Cincinnati, Tennessee took 16 shots from 11 feet or further out that weren’t threes, and they were fairly lucky to hit seven of these. Most of them were not what I’d classify as my favorite Tennessee shots:

Along with that, Tennessee had awful luck on their beloved 4-10 footers in the first two games, making just 9 of 42 attempts. They’ve been above 50% in all four games since, which I feel is a more true reflection of Tennessee’s interior shooting value than the 9 of 42 figure. Tennessee’s got to get theirs and hit theirs inside the perimeter:

Also, we know that Missouri’s going to surrender a pretty good amount of threes and that they don’t guard them particularly well. I’d really like to see what Tennessee can do in the way of finding open looks for Victor Bailey, Santiago Vescovi, and Josiah-Jordan James. All three should avoid off-the-dribble pull-ups, but I can’t imagine a scenario where all three don’t find themselves open from downtown at least a couple of times in this fixture:

Limit the deep threes and get closer to the line; it’s better than long, inefficient deep balls.

Slow the backcourt’s impact and force runners/pull-ups

Defensively, we know that Missouri’s going to look for their shots from downtown, particularly above the break. The Tigers are happy to put them up from both a catch-and-shoot situation and pulling up off the dribble. Tennessee’s been pretty good at defending both this season. If they can force tougher looks:

And deeper ones:

They’ll be in business against a Missouri roster that has just two truly good three-point shooters on it.

We also know that Missouri’s offense loves to get in the paint early and often, like all of Cuonzo’s offenses. Missouri gets 52.1% of their overall shots in the paint, per CBB Analytics, with the majority of them coming from backcourt members driving to the rim off of a ball-screen or a spot-up situation. Tennessee’s been fantastic at forcing opponents to pull up before they get to the rim so far:

I would like to see Tennessee handle Missouri’s unique frontcourt situation, too. Tennessee hasn’t faced a ton of post-ups yet, and Missouri posts up nearly twice as much as Tennessee’s average opponent thus far. This is all about forcing tough misses:

And making Missouri’s centers make tough, bad decisions in passing out of the post:

If Tennessee can handle these areas of the game well, it’ll be their highest-quality win to date and a foundational piece of a potential SEC regular season championship.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, three predictions

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