How Tennessee matches up
A positive offensive matchup…if Tennessee can hit the shots they should be hitting
If you like frustrating moments in life, you probably adored Tennessee’s 79-74 win over Arkansas. Peppered in between Arkansas players making some very difficult shots was Tennessee’s typically sure-ish shooters missing wide, wide-open three-pointers and struggling to convert with regularity at the rim. This was perhaps best encapsulated in two plays. The first of which was the team’s best shooter bricking a three-pointer with no one near him:
And the second poor Jaden Springer missing two of the easiest layups he’ll have in his time at Tennessee. This one got me riled up:
If Tennessee converts even those two shots – literally those two! – it is a double-digit victory over a top 40 team in KenPom and a group that I think will, at minimum, finish as a top four team in the SEC. And yet: Tennessee just kept missing open shots. Per Shot Quality’s database, Tennessee had a greater than 95% chance of winning that game based on their shots vs. Arkansas’s, which typically translates to somewhere around a 15-20 point victory. But: Tennessee didn’t hit their shots. They simply needed a better conversion rate at the rim than what they got, and they got a tad lucky after all to see the win at the end of the day.
That said, man, I want Tennessee to get these exact same shots all over again, particularly the ones they got in the second half. After halftime, it was like we saw a totally different John Fulkerson, the one we came to love last year:
Fulkerson put Connor Vanover in the spin cycle a few different times in the second half, which was fantastic. Obviously, Tennessee really needed that, and Fulkerson delivered after his coach asked him to. But what was almost equally impressive to me was, again, some of the fantastic looks he delivers by way of all the attention he gets.
Of Tennessee’s 18 catch-and-shoot attempts in this game, 11 were deemed wide-open by Synergy, and it honestly feels like that number should be 14 or 15. Tennessee got so many good looks from downtown in this game, and it was a genuine shame that only five of them fell. I think those numbers will improve if you keep getting looks as good as Tennessee got.
Lastly, I want to see if Tennessee can continue to create pressure by way of guards driving to the paint and either A.) going up for an attempt at the rim if it’s single coverage or B.) passing out if there’s a second defender to an open shooter or scorer. After what felt like a lackadaisical performance in this sense against Alabama, Tennessee really did do a great job of pressuring the paint in a variety of ways:
Continue to do this and good things will happen. A&M’s only defensive cornerstone is forcing turnovers, so avoid getting in negative situations by making the extra pass and forcing them to collapse in the paint.
Hopefully, a feel-good night on defense
Defensively, Tennessee’s scout is a somewhat simple one: stop Emanuel Miller at all costs. A&M is going to try every way they can to get him the ball in the post early in the shot clock, whether that’s from a true post-up or from a guard driving and dishing. Tennessee has done a solid job of recovering on cut plays, as shown here, but I’d like to see them give up fewer points if possible:
The post-up defense has been fantastic all season long, though. Not only is Tennessee forcing their opponents to take really difficult shots in these situations:
They’re also forcing a ton of turnovers, which is a pretty ideal thing to have in your back pocket against a turnover-prone A&M squad.
If they can restrict Miller’s impact, it’s going to be very, very hard for anyone else on the A&M roster to make up for it. Generally, in late-clock possessions, A&M defaults to taking either a badly guarded three or forcing a tough two. Tennessee’s very good at bleeding the clock dry, and I’d like to see them force Andre Gordon or Quenton Jackson to have the ball late, not Miller.
Essentially, I love this offensive matchup for Tennessee, and I think it could be an ideal feel-good opponent for them to play. Miller is the only player that can consistently match up with and beat his Tennessee opponent for all 40 minutes; the other guys surrounding him are just so spotty and inconsistent that it would require an unusually good effort. Or, alternately, unusually poor defensive play from Tennessee that we haven’t seen yet.
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