Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Missouri (#2)

Lineup notes

Missouri:

  • I think this is the first time all season Tennessee has played a team that hasn’t changed their starting lineup. It’s still Pinson, Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Kobe Brown, and Tilmon through 11 games.
  • Since Tennessee played Missouri three weeks ago, Cuonzo has shortened the rotation a bit. Parker Braun has racked up DNPs in two of the last four games, while Torrence Watson went from getting 14 minutes against Tennessee to getting no more than 8 in a game since. This is an eight-man rotation at most.
  • Given that Brown is an awful shooter who isn’t very good defensively, I don’t understand why Cuonzo hasn’t given Mitchell Smith or Javon Pickett the start instead. Neither can shoot a basketball reliably, but both are much better individual and team defenders.

Tennessee:

  • This seems dependent on Jaden Springer’s availability, but the lineup is mostly set regardless: Vescovi, one of Springer/Johnson, JJJ, Pons, Fulkerson.
  • Here’s why Springer’s availability is massive. When Springer is on the court, even with luck adjustments, Tennessee shoots the ball almost 7% better, turns it over 3% less, and holds the opposition to a 4% lower hit rate on two-pointers. All of those add up over time. Him not being available wasn’t the reason for the Tuesday implosion, but it didn’t help.
  • I think I’ll explore this more in the next Quarterly Review, but as crazy as this sounds, Tennessee really does need more Vescovi/Bailey lineups. Not only does Tennessee’s offense go from roughly the 68th-best with them off the court to a top 20 unit with them on, Tennessee also takes barely two-thirds as many threes when one or the other is off. In the 77 possessions with both off this season, Tennessee has taken six threes. Six.

Key matchups

Jeremiah Tilmon vs. John Fulkerson. Wes Rucker replied to my “Where Is Fulkerson” call Tuesday night suggesting that Fulk likely is battling a couple of nagging injuries. I assume Wes knows a lot more than I do, so I believe him. Still, he’s got to be better than he has been, and I’m sure he knows it. Tilmon has been electric lately, but Fulkerson essentially held him to no real impact at all in their first battle.

Xavier Pinson vs. Santiago Vescovi. Pinson is a hilariously inefficient volume shooter with no off button, but he’s undeniably good in the pick-and-roll and can draw a lot of attention with his drives. He’s also great at getting to the foul line. Vescovi has started to show signs of driving aggression as of late, but to most scouts, he remains pretty much ignorable once he’s inside the free throw line. I’m very curious to see how this one goes.

Dru Smith vs. a couple different guys. Stylistically, the best matchups for Dru Smith are Victor Bailey and Keon Johnson, both of which have serious bonuses and drawbacks at this time. At minimum, I’d like to see Smith forced to shoot over the top of this defense.

Three predictions

 

  1. Tennessee wins the turnover battle by five or more;
  2. If he plays, this will be Jaden Springer’s highest-scoring SEC effort to date (14 or more points);
  3. Tennessee, 71-62.

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