Show Me My Opponent, 2021-22: Presbyterian

OPPONENT Presbyterian (5-2, #258 KenPom)
(7-15 in 2020-21)
LOCATION Thompson-Boling Arena
Knoxville, TN
Dane Bradshaw (analyst)
SPREAD KenPom: Tennessee -22
Torvik: Tennessee -18.7

Firstly, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Mine was pretty good; I got to see a bunch of people I never get to see and I went to Tennessee’s surprisingly-stressful fixture on Black Friday. And uh this happened.

Oh right! Basketball. Tennessee draws the Presbyterian Blue Hose (yes that is their team name, yes it is apparently a reference to socks?) on what should be a chilly Tuesday night affair in Knoxville. Presbyterian is 5-2, but all five wins are over opponents ranked 206th or worse on KenPom; the two top 100 opponents they’ve drawn have resulted in 64-53 (#45 Clemson) and 79-45 (#76 Cincinnati) losses. This team is actually markedly improved from the last two, which finished 326th and 335th on KenPom. Please take care of business and keep up this sub-2 hour game streak.

Presbyterian’s offense

All numbers via KenPom and Hoop-Math. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE WARNING until December 23 or so.

Hope you like slow basketball! This Presbyterian offense runs at a snail’s pace, taking 19.5 seconds per offensive possession. That’s 337th out of 358; Virginia, the team everyone spends four months whining about each season for supposed unwatchability, is 345th. Exactly one non-overtime game has gone over 69 (nice) possessions, and even then, Presbyterian played an overtime game that did not crack 70 possessions. This is low and slow, baby, and you gotta deal with it.

A good basic read here is that Tennessee is essentially drawing a slower, poorer-shooting Tennessee Tech. Presbyterian is good at the same things Tech was good at (namely, offensive rebounding) and, aside from one outlier shooting performance, has been Pure Butt. Synergy ranks the offense in the 2nd-percentile nationally – the 2nd-percentile out of every dadgummed college basketball team in America – and across seven games, only two of which were against Top 200 opponents, they have cracked 1 PPP twice and a 50% eFG% once. It is an atrocious offense.

But even atrocious offenses still score points, and #0 Rayshon Harrison (121 points) has nearly twice as many as Presbyterian’s second-leading scorer (Winston Hill, 61). Presbyterian runs a lot of ball-screens, the majority of which feature Harrison as the ball-handler. I am fairly confident in saying that Harrison is the only player I would deem genuinely scary on this roster, a 6’4” demon that is not a particularly good deep shooter (31.8% on 170 attempts for his career) or a particularly good finisher at the rim (50.5% on 97 attempts), but is just…really, really smart with the ball in his hands?

Think about this insane thing for a minute:

  • Rayshon Harrison, All P&R Possessions: 75 points on 83 possessions (0.904 PPP) (61st-percentile, per Synergy)
  • Presbyterian, Every Other Possession: 297 points on 427 possessions (0.695 PPP) (would rank 357th out of 358 D-1 offenses)

Rayshon Harrison in the pick-and-roll is the only thing this offense has going for it at all. Those P&R numbers above are actually much worse when he passes the ball; Harrison has 49 points on 51 possessions where he uses a ball screen to get his own shot, per Synergy. It’s literally just him, man.

Harrison is going to control the ball as long as he’s on the court and it’s a weird scenario where the shot you’re most conditioned for him to want (a mid-range two) is his most effective shot. (Another fun one: Harrison 25-54 on non-rim twos; all other Presbyterian players 20-78.) However, if you can make him pull up off the dribble from anywhere, it’s inherently better than a catch-and-shoot attempt; he was far more efficient on those last year and is a hair better on them this year.

The only other guy that gets much consistent usage (though he plays far fewer minutes) is Winston Hill, a 6’7” 230 guy that is their center. Yes! Their center. Presbyterian posts up more often than Tennessee does, and the plurality of those possessions go to Hill; he is 3-for-14 on shot attempts in the post so far and has been disastrous when doubled. So: double.

Onward. But first: NEW STUFF! Here is a chart that answers a very simple question: is this player a serious threat to score from three/midrange/at the rim, and should I be mad when they do?

Presbyterian’s defense

All numbers via KenPom and Hoop-Math. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE WARNING until December 23 or so.

It speaks to how bad the offense is when I saw the defense ranked in the 25th-percentile on Synergy and was like “okay that’s fine.” The structure of this is relatively normal in that it’s fully man-to-man on basically every half-court possession and never variates from that. They do press occasionally after made baskets, but the problem is two-fold:

  1. Presbyterian does not often “make” a “basket”;
  2. They do force an above-average amount of turnovers out of it, but most require opponent error rather than Presbyterian excellence.

It’s easy to look at the TO% and OREB% allowed in the graphic above and get a little queasy; Tennessee giving up the rebounds they gave up to Tennessee Tech was pretty upsetting, and to Presbyterian’s credit, they’ve only allowed two opponents (Cincinnati and Central Arkansas) to top a 23% OREB%. Some of this is objectively good. And yet: 25th-percentile defense, 24th-percentile half-court, 10th-percentile post-up defense because there is no serious rim protector on the team.

As noted in the graphic, Presbyterian is allowing 40.5% of all opponent attempts to come at the rim with a 65.3% FG% on those shots; that’s the 60th-highest attempt rate allowed and the 52nd-highest FG% against, which is a horrible combination. Winston Hill and Owen McCormack both have four blocks across the Blue Hose’s seven games, but that’s not enough to counteract how easy it seems to be for opponents to get points. It’s just, like…very easy to imagine Kennedy Chandler making this pass.

This is the rare game where I’m not mad if Tennessee doesn’t generate a ton of three-point attempts; Presbyterian is oddly good at guarding them (74/26 Guarded/Unguarded) and was good at doing so last year, too. Tennessee will take some, but I’m not actively expecting a bunch of open attempts from deep. Clemson and Cincinnati, the only good teams the Blue Hose have played, had a combined 10 unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts out of 31 total. It’s alright to just dominate the rim in this one, and Tennessee genuinely should have a goal of half of their shots being within four feet of the rim. Why not?

How Tennessee matches up

Uh…pretty well? Again, sort of hard to say much about an opponent that Tennessee is more athletic and taller in the frontcourt than by a substantial margin. The only way that Tennessee Tech was able to score points against Tennessee was by having an outlier performance on mid-range twos (11-for-19; +3.2 makes or +6.4 points above expectation) because Tennessee held them to 40.9% FG% at the rim on 22 attempts. Presbyterian is drastically inefficient at the rim (53.5% FG%, 44th-lowest in the nation) and isn’t much better anywhere else.

Anyway, I am supposed to do the offensive side of this first, sorry. Tennessee is going to look to exploit Presbyterian’s weak rim protection game early and often, and it would be genuinely disappointing if their rim-and-threes rate was below 80%. Presbyterian was bad at defending the post last year and is similarly bad in 2021-22 for the simple reason of “our starting center is 6’7.” Their backup is 6’9” and the defense is far better with him on the court, but for College Reasons, he is not starting. Considering that post-ups this season against Presbyterian are going for 1.07 PPP and were at 0.925 PPP last season, I won’t be upset by any feeding of Fulkerson or Nkamhoua down low in this game.

Based on my research, Presbyterian also appear to be quite bad at defending basket cuts. Both Cincinnati and Clemson were able to get easy points off of them, and considering Tennessee has been the SEC’s King of Cuts for a while now (back-to-back SEC champions in terms of per-possession cut usage, 2019-20 and 2020-21), it would be a surprise if Tennessee doesn’t make Presbyterian’s defense look like North Carolina’s. It feels as if it will be remarkably easy to score in the paint.

Defensively, this is a fairly basic scout: slow down Rayshon Harrison and this should be over pretty quickly. Presbyterian does not have a consistent second scorer at the ready, as Harrison is the only player even averaging double figures right now. He’s going to spend the plurality of his on-court time as the ball-handler. The first thing you’ve got to do: force the ball out of his hands and make anyone else score on you.

The second: when Harrison does get his shots, and he will, make them as difficult as you can. Clemson (4 rim attempts out of 16 total shots) and Cincinnati (2 out of 15) both walled off the rim and dared Harrison to shoot over the top of them; he went 0-for-13 on threes against both. I imagine that Harrison will make at least one three in this game, but you have to make him work like crazy for it. He rarely takes floaters and is not one to bully his way through contact, so make him take the ugly ones.

This is a good chance to re-instill belief; come out early, push your opponent aside, and move on.

Expected starters

Metric explanations: MPG is minutes per game. PPG/RPG/APG/Fouls/Twos/Threes are what you’d guess. USG% is the percentage of possessions a player uses on the court. OREB%/DREB% are your available rebounds usurped. Finally, PRPG! is Bart Torvik’s Points Over Replacement metric; the higher the better. If you’re on mobile, zoom in; if on desktop, right click -> Open Image in New Tab.

Presbyterian has had the same starting lineup in all seven games; I doubt this changes after a win.

(Tennessee-specific note: Josiah-Jordan James will be reinserted whenever he plays again.)

Three things to watch for

  • What percentage of Tennessee’s attempts are within four feet of the rim? Clemson got 23 of their 45 attempts within four feet (51.1%), Cincinnati 33 of 61 (54.1%). If Tennessee isn’t cracking 50% I’ll be…I don’t know, 4% annoyed.
  • What’s the path for Victor Bailey to minutes? Coaches are malleable, and it’s five games in. But: assuming Justin Powell returns, does it really seem like Victor Bailey is going to crack even 15 minutes a game this year? Zeigler is at 28 & 26 over the last two; Powell has been 17+ in every game he’s played.
  • Do they put Michigan or Alabama at #2? Oh yeah baby. I gotta care about this stupid garbage now. The dadgum PLAYOFF SHOW! I have to listen to Gary Barta tell me which programs are Bae and which ones are Trash. But it is worth it. It is all worth it just to see my father smile again. I hope to see him smile more, maybe Saturday around 11:30 PM ET in Indiana.

Key matchups

Kennedy Chandler vs. Rayshon Harrison. Harrison is the only standout player on the entire Presbyterian roster and will almost certainly take 15+ shots in this game; Chandler needs to make him work for it while exploiting Harrison’s very poor defense on the other end. Like, Chandler should be responsible for 30 points of his own + others by way of assists.

John Fulkerson vs. Centers. Fulkerson was good against Tennessee Tech and I would like to see him continue to be good against a very bad rim defense.

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee posts a 70%+ FG% on attempts at the rim;
  2. Tennessee wins the turnover battle by 4 or more;
  3. Tennessee 79, Presbyterian 55.

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