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

How Tennessee matches up

It’s really all about how well you can hit open shots and if you’re willing to exploit Florida’s deficiencies

Alright, back to it. I don’t feel like focusing on Tennessee’s loss to Auburn (or what felt like a loss at times to an awful Vanderbilt team), so we’ll try and attack this from a season-long lens. This offense clearly hasn’t come together whatsoever and is just as broken and dysfunctional now as it appeared three months ago against Cincinnati. I’ve seen worse offenses go far in the NCAA Tournament, and it is great that Tennessee has a legitimate top-10 (and more likely top-5) defense in the nation to help carry them on nights where the offense doesn’t show up.

The problem is that the offense has shown up for a full 40 exactly twice since Tennessee last played Florida: the Kansas win and the South Carolina win. They’re consistently inconsistent, and it’s just how it’s going to be at this point. If you’d like to read more about mid-range jumpers and Tennessee’s obsession with the least-efficient shot in basketball, just go read the articles I’ve written about it already. This article is going to focus on a couple of ways Tennessee can exploit Florida’s defense and use them to come out on top.

Last time out, it was openly a disaster for Tennessee. The Volunteers simply couldn’t hit an open shot, despite getting a bunch of them, and for whatever reason, they were atrocious at finishing at the rim. It’s really hard to replicate the performance they put on without actively trying or turning the ball over a billion times as they did against Mississippi. I mean, if you’re a coach, there is literally nothing wrong with this shot:

And, if Yves Pons is willing to not trip over his own feet, I would like for him to continue driving to the rim:

It’s just that literally nothing went down that day for Tennessee. Sometimes, that happens, and it is pretty horrifying. Tennessee needs to significantly up their usage of both on-ball and off-ball screens in this game. Florida’s had some issues defending against both, particularly against guards who can drive to the rim using these screens. The guy that fits this perfectly, in my mind, is Keon Johnson. I’d love to see Tennessee get Johnson the ball in situations where he can use a pick from Fulkerson, Pons, or Nkamhoua to apply pressure to the paint, opening up space for a shooter on the perimter:

I’d also like to see better, more frequent cuts to the basket. Tennessee hasn’t gotten into this side of things quite as frequently lately. Cuts remain the most efficient play type in college basketball by miles (aside from offensive rebounds), simply because almost all of them end up being shots at the rim or in the paint. Run some screens, get some guys open, and please, please stop taking 8-14 footers.

Force bad shots, especially in the paint

Defensively, last time out sucked. Obviously. However, the good news is that most of what happened is pretty fixable. First off, Tennessee’s largely a switching defense when faced with defending a pick-and-roll. This is fine, and for the most part, Tennessee handles the ball-handler side of things pretty well. Not so much the roll man. As discussed in the Florida offense section, the Gators got several easy points last time by way of Tennessee’s indecisiveness in defending their sets.

I think Tennessee’s actually improved in terms of making a decision, but I don’t know that they always make the right one. Case in point: Santiago Vescovi being left to defend Auburn frontcourt players for several possessions last Saturday. Tennessee can’t afford that this time. I’d like to see Tennessee consistently pressure the ball up top and either force a bad pass by the ball-handler or force the ball-handler to keep the ball and create his own shot. We know that Tre Mann is very unafraid to take long twos; why not encourage him?

Along with that, Tennessee’s going to face a full-strength Florida roster, which they didn’t last time. That means they’ll have to deal with the excellent Colin Castleton, who’s a really efficient post player. Tennessee’s got to take away Castleton’s first option, which is to drop step to the rim, and force him into tougher shots. He can hit these, but just make them as long as possible.

There’s all the other obvious stuff I’d like to see, too. More turnovers forced. Fewer dumb fouls. More mid-range jumpers encouraged. Fewer silly, non-sensical switches. Tennessee is a really, really good defense, and the last month of basketball has not changed that. Tennessee simply needs to get out of their own way sometimes, and I think this could be a game where they do just that.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, three predictions

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