Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: South Carolina

How Tennessee matches up

Please hit open shots

Offensively, what I would like to do is drop this tweet and leave it at that:

But, regrettably, I must be a Real Analyst. If there is a game that Tennessee should see positive regression from three-point land, I would imagine it’s this one. As we’ve covered in the past, there are only two relatively consistent ways to limit your opponent’s impact from deep.

  1. Don’t allow a three-point attempt in the first place.
  2. If you have to allow it, close out hard and guard the shot. Perhaps they’ll shoot off a dribble instead, which is generally a worse shot.

South Carolina does neither of these very well. They’ve allowed a higher-than-average number of threes for three straight seasons now, and as covered in the defensive section, they have the worst Guarded/Unguarded rate on defense in the SEC. Tennessee is going to get a lot of good looks from downtown in this one if they do what we all want them to do, i.e. drive the ball and kick it out to shooters that will make the shots. There’s nothing wrong at all with a shot like this:

It just didn’t go down. You’ve gotta focus on the process over results; if we did the reverse, every single missed shot in human history would have been a bad decision, which is really funny logic to hold if you think about it for longer than two seconds. Tennessee – AKA Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer – have to be hyper-aggressive with the ball in their hands, both finding their own shot and finding good shots for others. If they consistently get these shots and hit a good chunk of them (key part there), South Carolina will have no choice but to overplay said shots, which will allow for better driving lanes.

STOP TAKING 10-FOOT JUMPERS. PLEASE.

Speaking of which, please drive to the basket, not the paint. Rick Barnes has voiced his frustration with how many shorter mid-range shots Tennessee takes, and while I would like to remind everyone that Rick Barnes is the coach of those players, I completely understand. Per Synergy, no team in America takes a greater amount of short mid-range attempts (roughly 5-16 feet) per possession than Tennessee. Nearly 13 Volunteer shots per night are of this mid-range variety, which, again, is higher than any other team out there.

These would be great shots if Tennessee hit them, which they typically don’t. The Vols are shooting 38% on these 5-16 foot mid-range looks; considering the national average is 37.5%, there’s no real excuse to be taking this many shots that could either be layups or threes if you’re hitting them at a rate barely above average. Now, if Tennessee begins hitting mid-range attempts at a rate of 42% or better – which would place them among the top 50 nationally – then we can talk about being okay with taking these shots. Until then, Jaden Springer, get yourself closer for easier points. This is one of the worst rim protection teams on the schedule, so take advantage.

Do Your Job

Defensively, Tennessee has to Do Their Job. This is deceptively simple: protect the boards, keep South Carolina away from the rim at all costs, and close up driving lanes. The first doesn’t need a GIF, but the second might. Without a fully healthy Yves Pons on Saturday, Tennessee gave up bucket after bucket at the rim to one of the most athletic squads in the nation. It wasn’t pretty, so I’ll restrict all of our eyes to one GIF:

This cannot happen again. There’s a couple of ways to adjust that would likely encourage more passouts and more threes, AKA how the first month of the season went for Tennessee. The Vols can’t be afraid in providing extra help and forcing players to kick out. Lawson is happy to get his, but he’s also okay to pass out if he knows he can’t get to the basket. Tennessee needs to encourage this, provide secondary help, and rotate quicker for tougher shots:

Along with this, tougher two-point shots are required. South Carolina is going to do some of this on their own, as they don’t have terribly noteworthy shot selection and take a good amount of mid-range jumpers. Let them take those, of course, but if Lawson and company are still going to try and score in the paint, force as many runners as possible. South Carolina ranks 31st on Synergy in percentage of possessions ending in a runner, a shot with an average conversion rate of just 36.8%. South Carolina’s is 34.9%, so fans should be thrilled to see Tennessee force at least five or six of these tonight.

Bottom line: rebound well, force tough twos, and get back on track. It’s a long season, and you can still save a lot of what you’d hoped for.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, three predictions

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