How Tennessee matches up
Improve your shot selection and don’t read too much into one awful game
In some ways, I would not like to discuss the Florida disasterpiece at all. It is Tennessee’s worst performance against conference competition of any kind since the 78-50 blowout to Alabama in early 2018; it is probably the worst offensive performance the team has had to date under Rick Barnes. There are no excuses to be made for such a wet fart of a fixture. You’ve just got to accept that you took a sledgehammer to the face and move on from it, hoping to learn in any way possible.
And yet…and yet…a lesson learned for me is that Tennessee just has to hit the open shots they get. Because buddy, they got a lot of open shots in this game.
Of Tennessee’s 19 catch-and-shoot attempts in this game, 14 were unguarded, per Synergy. (Tennessee did a horrendous job of guarding threes on the other end, but we’ll get to that later.) One of these was a two-pointer, so, in the end, Tennessee took 18 threes. Given what we know about catch-and-shoot 3PT%, and what we know about Guarded vs. Unguarded, you would’ve rightfully expected Tennessee to hit around six or seven threes in this game. They hit three.
It’s hard to envision a performance as disastrous as this happening again, to be honest. After looking at the following tweet:
It is pretty darn tempting to throw my hands up and scream “COLLEGE BASKETBALL.” Even great teams have awful, terrible shooting nights. 2014-15 Wisconsin, the most efficient offensive team in KenPom history, shot 17-for-52 from the field in a 49-38 “win” over Marquette. 2017-18 Villanova, the second-greatest offense in college basketball history, barfed up 0.912 PPP and a 3-for-20 3PT effort in a loss to #63 Providence. Even 2018-19 Tennessee, far and away the best offense in school history, had five games where they posted a 47% eFG% or worse. (47% would’ve ranked 317th as a season-long effort that year.) I mean, in this game, Tennessee inarguably got some fantastic looks:
They just hit absolutely none of them. It wasn’t like Florida really even had a great shooting night; Tennessee just had their worst shooting night possible.
Still, there are some clear and obvious things Tennessee still desperately needs to fix as an offense. Here’s Simon again:
On some level, it does hurt a bit seeing Tennessee’s mid-range attempts down at the bottom. Rick Barnes clearly preaches mid-range efficiency to his players, and even last year’s pretty gross offense managed to convert 39.1% of their non-rim two-pointers, good enough for 61st in the nation. This year’s team sits at the exact same conversion rate, which would be nice if it weren’t also troubling. Shouldn’t a team with far more talent than the 2019-20 roster be getting better shots than this?
Tennessee is hitting these shots and their other non-rim twos (post-ups, runners, etc.) at a much lower rate than the shot quality would suggest; by a very loose calculation of Simon’s metrics, Tennessee’s expected non-rim two hit rate is probably closer to around 42% or even 43%. At that rate, you want more good mid-range twos. But until then, please just attack the rim like we know you can.
If Tennessee avoids over-playing ball screens and stays out of foul trouble, this should go much more smoothly
Defensively, we know Missouri’s going to want to do two things: attack the rim as much as possible and get the ball to Jeremiah Tilmon. On the first end, Missouri has several perimeter guards who are unafraid to drive to the rim, force pressure, and either go up for a two or kick it out for a three. Because of how purely horrid Missouri is at shooting a basketball, I think we can generally agree that Tennessee will be more focused on stopping the layup/dunk attempts. (For what it’s worth, Missouri is due some positive 3PT% regression – they’re probably closer to a true 33% shooting team – but also due for serious negative 2PT% regression.) Even in the disastrous Florida game, Tennessee still showed some skill in forcing tough twos:
And prior to Florida, I think we all know that Tennessee’s been pretty fantastic in making life hard at the rim. The Vols rank 16th in the nation in opponent FG% on layup/dunk/putback attempts and 3rd among all major-conference teams. These numbers were 4th and 1st prior to the Florida game, and considering Tennessee has been fantastic at protecting the rim against every opponent not named Florida or, at times, Arkansas, I feel you can expect things to get back to a relative normal. Only one team in America blocks more two-point attempts than the Vols, and considering Missouri sits at 278th offensively in terms of their twos getting blocked, I think this is a fine time for normality to return:
Tennessee has to be light on their feet in not over-playing their hand on drives to the basket, though. Florida did a fantastic job of finding cutters when applying pressure to the paint, and Tennessee’s defensive desperation caused the Gators to find several open baskets like this one:
Obviously, this cannot happen again.
Also, Missouri wants to feed the ball to Jeremiah Tilmon in the post. After their home implosion against the Vols, Tilmon has been Missouri’s best player by a mile and, frequently, their only reliable wire-to-wire scorer. In half-court sets, the plan will be to get the ball to Tilmon in two key areas: in the post and as the roll man in their ball-screen sets. The Vols’ post-up defense has been elite all season long, with Yves Pons proving a horrifically tough player to score against when he isn’t in foul trouble:
The pick-and-roll is a slight area of concern, though. Tennessee sits at just the 62nd-percentile in P&R defense, per Synergy. I have a feeling that part of this is due for regression, simply because Tennessee’s P&R defense has generally been its strength for most of the Barnes tenure. However, Tennessee has shown to be a bit too aggressive at times against the ball-handler, which lends its way to an easy open two at the rim:
If they can balance both quality defense on the perimeter and paying close attention to Tilmon when he rolls to either the basket or the post, this will be a much better experience.
I look forward to the good kind of regression in this game.
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