Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Alabama

How Tennessee matches up

Offensively, very well

Oh my God this team is a delight. The fun part about Wednesday (which, again, I 100% believed was Tuesday until the next day at 4 PM) was that Tennessee didn’t even have that good of a game offensively. Sure, Tennessee made five of seven threes, and sure, they had a fine enough time from two-point land. They even got a lot of good, relatively easy shots at the rim:

That said, Tennessee did have a few offensive issues at times. I’m glad that Tennessee made 7 of their 10 two-point attempts from 15+ feet, but…man, just take another step or two in. Then again, if you can hit it in rhythm, I shouldn’t stop you.

Plus, Alabama’s going to force a ton of off-the-dribble action in this game. Let’s see these shots get closer to the rim for more efficient looks.

Something I’d like to see Tennessee improve on in this fixture is to control the ball better. I wasn’t crazy about some of Tennessee’s ball handling, especially in the first half, and I found it notable that Barnes had a bit of a quick trigger for both Santiago Vescovi and Victor Bailey after bad turnovers like these:

Alabama knows that there’s only two ways on defense for them to come out on top: 1. Hope Tennessee has a bad shooting day; 2. Tennessee’s backcourt commits some uncharacteristic turnovers due to the Tide’s on-ball pressure. If either fails, Alabama isn’t an elite rebounding team and commits close to the national average number of fouls per game. I’d like to see Tennessee erase both concerns by aggressively getting inside and forcing the issue for the Tide. They’ll either have to risk foul trouble or hope Tennessee has a game like they did against Cincinnati where they miss 14 layups.

Affect shot selection as much as possible

Defensively, the scout is very obvious. Alabama almost exclusively takes layups or threes; Tennessee would do well to protect the rim and to guard threes as well as they possibly can. They’ve done a terrific job on both this year, as we’ve covered before. The Tide have yet to play a defense that forces as many “long” rim shots as Tennessee does. By these, I mean shots in the 4-10 foot range.

Here’s an example: prior to Wednesday’s game, Missouri had taken about 23-24% of their overall field goal attempts from 4-10 feet; they simply took more, better shots at the rim than most Tennessee opponents. It didn’t matter. Tennessee forced Missouri to take 17 of their 44 field goal attempts before they actually got to the rim:

That’s an incredible number, but it shows the power of how much Yves Pons matters to this defense. With garbage time filtered out, the Tennessee defense has allowed just 0.705 PPP this season with Pons on the court. That figure with Pons off is 0.867 PPP – still fantastic, obviously, but not nearly as unbelievable. The fact that you have a player on the roster that can do this:

Is quite the nice little bonus.

Similarly, we explored in the Quarterly Review Tennessee’s knack for forcing unusually long three-pointers. About 45.1% of opponent three-pointers have come from 25 feet or further out, which is one of the best ratios in the SEC. This bore itself out mighty well against Missouri, who was quite happy to take deep threes. It worked out fantastically for the Vols, as Missouri shooters went 1-for-8 on threes from 25+ feet out:

Obviously, Tennessee needs to force Alabama to shoot as many of these as possible. 35.4% of all Alabama shots (and 72.8% of all three-pointers) are 21-24 foot threes, or those of the short variety. Really, it’s kind of amazing Alabama doesn’t have a better shooting percentage. (This will regress now that I’ve spoken it into existence.) I’d love to see Tennessee get Alabama’s short/long ratio even to 60/40 in this game, especially seeing as the Tide are making just 24% of long threes this season.

Also: let’s see some more turnovers. Tennessee can make this their eighth straight game forcing turnovers on at least 20% of opponent possessions, which would be the first time they’ve done that since the 2014-15 season. Alabama’s offense, thanks to playing at hyper-speed, isn’t typically a turnover machine…but both Clemson and Western Kentucky have achieved this, and Clemson’s defense is the closest thing to Tennessee’s that Alabama has seen. (Clemson held the Tide to 56 points, FWIW.) More steals, more buckets.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, three predictions

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