Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Arkansas

 Lineup notes

Arkansas:

  • On their third starting lineup of the year thanks to Justin Smith’s ankle surgery: Tate, Sills, Davis, Moody, Vanover.
  • It’s kind of hard to nail down a rotation perfectly here, because Vance Jackson played 13 minutes against Auburn and 1 against Missouri while Jaylin Williams played 4 against Auburn and 17 against Missouri. Either way, two SEC games suggest that Musselman is rarely interested in going further than seven-deep. 
  • The loss of Justin Smith to his ankle is a very unfortunate one, and I feel kind of dumb for not covering above, so read this: when Smith was on the court during his nine games, Arkansas was nearly 20 points better per 100 possessions, even after adjusting for opponent and for luck. They got better shots, forced tougher looks on defense, and rebounded better on both ends. Not having him makes this a slightly easier task for Tennessee.

Tennessee:

  • It doesn’t seem like anyone around the program expects a starting lineup adjustment, so for now, it’s still Vescovi, Bailey, JJJ, Pons, Fulkerson.
  • Tennessee on Saturday: +5 when Pons was in the game, -13 when he was off in just 19 minutes. Stop auto-benching your best defender when he has two fouls and trust him.
  • Jaden Springer’s health is massive for a few reasons, but a key one is that Tennessee’s been extremely consistent in minutes usage through their first eight fixtures. From Cincinnati through Alabama, Springer has seen 20+ minutes of usage (minus the injury game), Johnson 16+ (same), and Anosike 10+.
  • John Fulkerson getting run off the floor on Saturday was, obviously, discouraging. But I don’t know that his minutes usage is that irregular. Fulkerson’s only topped 30 minutes in one game so far (Cincinnati). I don’t know what to make of that yet, but I didn’t really see that coming, even with Anosike joining the rotation and Nkamhoua generally playing 6-10 minutes a night.

Key matchups

Moses Moody vs. Yves Pons. This will end up being anywhere from 2-4 different defenders, but at the start and to finish, Pons will draw this matchup. Moody is one of the most skilled freshmen in the nation, able to score at all three levels. Pons is the best defender in the SEC, and this may be his toughest matchup of the entire season.

JD Notae and Desi Sills vs. Santiago Vescovi. My guess is that, due to Jalen Tate’s unusual status as a 6’6” point guard, Josiah-Jordan James draws that matchup while Vescovi slides to guarding the 2-guard and Victor Bailey the 3 (Davonte Davis). Or something like that. Either way, Vescovi was dreadful against Alabama and badly needs a good performance.

Connor Vanover vs. John Fulkerson. Simply because Fulkerson will not face a taller opponent all season long, and because he also needs a rebound performance. A good place to start: not having two of your shots blocked and not allowing three offensive rebounds to a literal giant. Also, you have to guard him out to 25 feet, so, yeah.

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee gets 20+ free throw attempts;
  2. Arkansas is held below a point per possession;
  3. Tennessee, 73-66.

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