Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Auburn

How Tennessee matches up

A better offense would exploit the rim + perimeter holes Auburn has. Will Tennessee actually do it?

“Tennessee only took seven mid-range jumpers against Vanderbilt, their second-lowest amount against any conference opponent this season. Just a wee coincidence that these games came back-to-back (Texas A&M the previous Saturday) and represent two of Tennessee’s three most efficient outings in conference play this season!” – myself, February 24, 2021

“We took 17 mid-range jumpers and made seven for a points-per-possession rate of 0.824 PPP.” – Tennessee, later that night

I’m not really sure what more there is to say offensively at this point. The path there is pretty obvious. Tennessee takes an utterly absurd amount of bad shots and, as of the time of writing, spends a greater amount of possessions taking 5-16 foot jump shots than any other team in America, per Synergy. (This doesn’t include post-ups, cuts, or offensive rebounds, which almost certainly makes the gap even larger.) Tennessee doesn’t even hit these shots well; they’re now below 36% on the season. If Tennessee shot 25% from threes, it would still be a better option than taking these shots.

But it feels like I’m beating the hell out of this dead horse, to be honest. What else is there to say that you don’t already know? Perhaps the only revelation worth caring about is the mildly weird tidbit that Tennessee has taken exactly 17 mid-range jumpers in three straight games. I guess I just didn’t understand why this roster defaulted to these shots yet again despite playing a Vanderbilt team without their two best players, including their only decent rim protector. The first shot of the game Tennessee took at the rim was this one:

And that shot really made me think that Tennessee was about to get 20+ layup/dunk attempts against Vanderbilt. They should have. They didn’t. Tennessee only got 13 (and converted ten) because they are sickly, grossly addicted to the worst shot in basketball: the mid-range jumper. I guess if you haven’t, go read the article. (Also read MGoBlog, who referenced my article in a fantastic piece that is of a quality unmatched locally.) Until then, just smashing that Super Sim button on a solid 55% of Tennessee’s offensive possessions until something changes.

For this game specifically, Tennessee is going to get shots blocked at the rim. That’s totally fine, because if they get these shots blocked out of the right sets, I’ll know I’m seeing improvement. Tennessee needs to get Auburn locked into defending more on-ball screens in this game, and if you can force the Tigers to switch a big man onto Victor Bailey or Jaden Springer, it could be easy money inside.

Tennessee also needs more work in going to the rim out of post-ups, but I explained that further in the article. Yes, I am tired and need more sleep. Blame the cat. One thing I’d really like to see more of from Tennessee: work the ball inside, reverse the ball left-to-right or vice versa, and constantly move that thing until you’ve got someone open on the perimeter. Uncork the friggin’ thing. It ain’t gonna be open forever!

Regardless of Cooper’s status, Tennessee can’t let themselves get stretched thin by overcommitting on drives

Defensively, this game entirely depends on the availability of Sharife Cooper. As mentioned before, this becomes a much tougher task to complete if he’s playing and is driving with reckless abandon at the rim. You can pretty easily see at least one of Pons/Fulkerson ending up in serious foul trouble and playing limited minutes if Cooper can go.

However, regardless of Cooper’s status, there are two key commonalities in this game. Tennessee’s got to do a better job of guarding the three-point line than they have at times in the last few games. I actually thought they were perfectly fine against Vanderbilt; sometimes the opponent just gets hot and there isn’t really much you can do about it without overcompensating and opening up easy twos. If Tennessee is able to force Auburn into tough, guarded threes by not overcompensating, this should be an okay day at the office:

Along with that, Tennessee’s got to find a way to make Auburn uncomfortable in ball-screen sets. Auburn isn’t terribly efficient in theirs, but one of Tennessee’s few flaws this season has been some struggles in defending these sets when the screener slips the pick. Like I said, there aren’t many holes in Tennessee’s defensive coverage, but if you have a mobile screener, they can work their way to the rim off of these sets:

I’d prefer Tennessee just blow these up at the source. Don’t allow for a roll, pop, or slip; it’s time to set the standard on the court and force lots of turnovers. Tennessee has the ability to be a nasty, in-your-face defensive team, just like 2018-19 Auburn did when they felt inspired to do so. It’s worth seeing some goof-ups if it means we get more steals like these:

I want that level of tenacity back for the rest of the season. Let’s see some sort of improvement.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, three predictions

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