How Tennessee matches up
It’s all about layups and threes. Well, mostly
The good news: Tennessee looked a lot better against this defense last week than it did the first time. Why is that? Well, you’ll never guess! Actually, you might. Tennessee largely stopped taking mid-range twos for most of the second half and closed the game getting 26 of their final 32 (81.3%) attempts either at the rim:
Or from downtown:
I can’t believe it! Perhaps Ball and Oats has a place in Knoxville after all. Just kiddin’. Tennessee will never be the layups-and-threes team others desire to see them as, but last week’s Florida performance was the healthiest I’ve felt about the offense since…Texas A&M? Arkansas? Somewhere around that time of early January. Tennessee didn’t actually hit many threes in this game – they went 3-for-21 and missed a ton of open threes – but they got a bunch of open looks, which is what you want in the first place.
As long as Tennessee keeps using Keon Johnson’s remarkable athletic ability to pressure the paint and force Florida’s bigs to make tough decisions, it really does feel like the beginnings of something better offensively can be found. Jaden Springer is going to keep taking a lot of bad shots, which I can live with because he’s an amazing defender. Johnson is the guy you’ve got to rely on to get you looks like these:
Between Johnson and the out-of-nowhere resurgence of John Fulkerson, the two combined for 18 layup/dunk attempts on Sunday, which is easily the most they’ve combined for all year and Fulkerson’s highest number of rim attempts (8) in SEC play. That simply has to continue if Tennessee wants to make it to Saturday of this tournament. Limit the bad twos and continue to pound the boards until Florida’s shown an ability to actually protect them. If Tennessee can do that, I feel pretty alright about the outcome of this game. They won’t shoot 15% from downtown against Florida forever, so that should positively regress a bit this time out. They might even crack 30%!
Strike a balance between slowing down Mann and not over-committing to him
The defensive side of this is a bit more challenging. Today figures to be the first time all season Tennessee’s actually played a full-strength Florida squad (well, as full-strength as they’re able to be) despite having played them twice already. With Tre Mann back, Tennessee is going to be pressured to defend a three-level scorer in pick-and-roll sets all game long. If they overpursue, they run the risk of Mann finding an open post scorer in the paint; if they try to go with single-coverage and switch, Mann can speed past a Tennessee frontcourt player or just shoot over the top of them.
There’s a couple of ways to play ball-screen coverage, and I’d be very interested to see how often Tennessee chooses to ice these screens and prevent Mann from being able to use them to his benefit. Tennessee doesn’t press the ball-handler that more often than the average team, but they’ve been really successful in forcing turnovers when they’ve attacked hard. Mann turns it over on almost 20% of his possessions, so I’d love to see some hard hedges:
If Tennessee chooses to not hedge super-hard on these, they have to be prepared for what Mann can do with the ball still in his hands. He’s happy to shoot over the top of a defense or simply drive to the rim and use his sturdy frame to finish through contact, as he did against Vanderbilt yesterday.
Tennessee has to accept that, simply put, Mann is going to get double digits. That’s okay if it means he gets 15 points on 17 shots or something. It’s all about forcing the toughest shots you can. If Tennessee can force Mann into an array of runners, where he’s sitting at a 44.7% hit rate (0.894 PPP), that’s more ideal than a layup attempt:
Similarly, you want to force as many mid-range twos as possible. Florida doesn’t take a ton of threes, and in their two games against Tennessee, they’ve had two of their three lowest three-point attempt rates in SEC play. That can always change, obviously, but that’s 80 minutes of data that shows Florida hasn’t been able to get open consistently from downtown against the Vols. Having Mann out there helps, but Florida’s three-point attempt rate is actually lower with Mann on the court this season by about two percent. This is a lot of words to get to the eventual point of “make Florida take a bunch of 15-footers and be happy.”
Lastly: you gotta force turnovers. It was how Tennessee got back into the game last week, with some serious success in making Florida uncomfortable in ball-screen sets. If Tennessee is to win again, they’re going to have to get Florida to at least a 20% TO% to feel joyful.
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