Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Alabama

Defense

It’s good! Seriously. But also a little too aggressive

Surprisingly, this side of the ball has held up just about as well as the offense. At Buffalo, only once did Oats squeeze a defense into the KenPom top 100, and it was largely because they had the ninth-lowest opponent 3PT% and forced a good amount of turnovers. Really, the key identifier that you were watching an Oats-coached defense was their hellbent insistence on running shooters out of catch-and-shoot situations and forcing them to pull up off of a dribble or two:

Only one team in the nation forced more dribble jumpers per 100 possessions than Oats’ final Buffalo team in 2018-19. Their aggressiveness in this regard did lend them some struggles inside the arc, where they couldn’t control the quality of shot as well and gave up some unguarded twos because of it, but the fear of allowing a catch-and-shoot attempt is still very much there. Tennessee’s got to be prepared for unusually hard, aggressive closeouts, even if they get off a catch-and-shoot look:

It might be a good game to work on a pump-fake and a dribble. Alternately, you can do the obvious thing, but it’s what Alabama prefers. About 31% of shots against Alabama are non-rim two-pointers, which is an above-average rate nationally. Additionally, I’ve noticed that most opponents seem to gravitate more towards the 16-17 footers when stepping in, as opposed to getting closer to the rim for a better shot:

If Tennessee can take a few steps closer on these and get a better look, like Jaden Springer loves to do, I think they’ll have some more success.

The rim protection game is…not strong

However, I’d generally prefer Tennessee just go straight to the rim in this one. Alabama doesn’t have a true center or rim protector in the rotation, so it should probably come as no surprise that their rim FG% allowed is pretty bad. Opponents are converting 62.7% of attempts at the rim against Alabama, 253rd-best in the nation:

Strangely, CBB Analytics suggests that Alabama offers a truly strange left/right split. In each of their four zones on the left side of the court inside the perimeter, Alabama’s stuffing shots well above the national average:

But on the right side, teams are getting buckets at will:

I don’t know if there’s anything to make of this, really, as it’s all of a nine-game sample size. It’s more important to me that opponents are getting really good looks at the rim in general, and Tennessee should be able to do the same. (For what it’s worth, they had the exact opposite split last year; it was much easier to score on the right half of the court.) Watch to see if Tennessee focuses on attacking from the right side primarily.

Alabama plays no special zone or press defense; all you’re getting here is man-to-man looks. Tennessee has to be willing to work hard to break the on-ball pressure, pump-fake, get around Alabama’s harsh closeouts, and find ways to break the paint wide open. It’s pretty possible to do against this defense.

NEXT PAGE: You can either be good or you can be fun. Just kiddin’, the Vols are both

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