Show Me My Opponent: Alabama State

Located in lovely Montgomery, Alabama is Alabama State University. There probably isn’t much you know about it if you know about it. It’s an HBCU most famous either for being the place 2 Chainz played basketball at, or maybe it’s Tarvaris Jackson, or, hopefully, Ralph David Abernathy. Maybe you know them because of the famed Magic City Classic. You probably don’t know about the basketball team; that’s not a surprise, considering they haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011.

As part of my duties here, I am supposed to educate you about the basketball team a college has. However, I like advertising other stuff, too. In this instance, I find it much more important to tell you about the MIGHTY MARCHING HORNETS.

Alabama State’s marching band is one of the most beloved, well-respected, and flat-out wonderful bands you will find in this world. They are full of swagger, relentless play, and I’ve spent hours watching their walk-ins on YouTube. You know of the Human Jukebox, the Sonic Boom of the South, the Ocean of Soul, obviously. But you must know about the Mighty Marching Hornets.

Alabama State’s marching band has performed in the Rose Parade, a 2 Chainz music video, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, several NFL games, and they go to the Battle of the Bands – a real thing that sounds absolutely incredible – every year. Their danceline, called the Honey Beez, was asked to perform on America’s Got Talent. It is, uh, a slightly different experience than the Pride of the Southland Band, no disrespect intended.

The Fifth Quarter isn’t something that makes much of an appearance in high-major athletics, but it’s everything to these band members. After football games, Alabama State and their opponent march out, attempting to one-up each other with what they perform. Buddy, is it ever good stuff.

Will the Mighty Marching Hornets be on display in Knoxville tonight? Unfortunately, no; the band only performs for SWAC home games. The Alabama State Hornets, a basketball team that’s less explosive, sure will, though. They are coached by Lewis Jackson, they’ve made the NCAA Tournament four times, and they scheduled like crazy this year. Prior to Tennessee, they’ve played Gonzaga (lost by 31) and Houston (28); after, they’ll play VCU, Kansas State, Oregon, and several others. They won’t play a home game in the 2019-20 season until January 11, 2020. Tennessee simply happens to be another march, in and out, like it will be most nights.

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NEXT PAGE: Unfortunately, not about marching bands

2019 Tennessee high school football Round of 16 projections

The second round has arrived! Last week, these projections went 91-17 (84.3%), an excellent start. That brings these projections to 1509-364 (80.6%) on the full season, which, again, is a little above what I’d hoped for. Not bad.

This week on Twitter, I posted the updated TSSAA playoff odds, which, as far as I know, aren’t affected by the latest Powell allegations. In order, the current BlueCross Bowl game projections are listed by class. The favorites come first, then the runner-ups, with each team’s most recent title in parentheses:

  • 1A: South Pittsburg (2010) over Huntingdon (2003)
  • 2A: Peabody (2018) over Meigs Co. (never; made final in 1980, 1995)
  • 3A: Alcoa (2018) over Pearl-Cohn (1997)
  • 4A: Elizabethton (1938) over Haywood (never; made final in 1994, 1995, 2018)
  • 5A: Powell (never; made final in 1991, 2011) over Henry Co. (2013)
  • 6A: Maryville (2017) over Ravenwood (2015)
  • II-A: Nashville Christian (2015) over Davidson Academy (2018)
  • II-AA: Evangelical Christian (2005) over Christ Presbyterian Academy (2018)
  • II-AAA: McCallie (2001) over Baylor (1973)

If you have a complaint about these, please post them on the CoachT message boards, because I enjoy the grammar.

The games! Every game, unless I’m told otherwise, starts at 7 PM local time. Some games may be on TV; as best as I can, I’ve tried to reflect that. Otherwise, the projection provides all the information you really need. At the tail end of the post, there will be some additional analysis of each class. What games have the most at stake? What’s the highest-quality matchup out there? First, here’s the predictions.

 1A

  • (R2 #2) Oliver Springs 29 at (R1 #1) Cloudland 15
  • (R2 #3) Coalfield 16 at (R2 #1) Greenback 34
  • (R3 #4) Whitwell 22 at (R4 #3) Gordonsville 28
  • (R4 #2) Clay Co. 7 at (R3 #1) South Pittsburg 40
  • (R5 #2) Cornersville 9 at (R6 #1) Huntingdon 43
  • (R6 #2) McEwen 24 at (R5 #1) Huntland 21
  • (R7 #2) West Carroll 21 at (R8 #1) Middle College 33
  • (R8 #2) Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering 8 at (R7 #1) Lake Co. 49

2A

  • (R2 #2) Oneida 19 at (R1 #1) Hampton 25
  • (R1 #2) South Greene 14 at (R2 #1) Meigs Co. 33
  • (R4 #2) Trousdale Co. 25 at (R3 #1) Tyner Academy 24
  • (R3 #2) Bledsoe Co. 13 at (R4 #1) Watertown 31
  • (R6 #3) Riverside 16 at (R6 #1) Waverly Central 24
  • (R5 #3) Eagleville 14 at (R5 #1) Forrest 29
  • (R7 #2) Union City 21 at (R8 #1) Fairley 33
  • (R7 #3) McKenzie 9 at (R7 #1) Peabody 39

3A

  • (R2 #3) GPittman 10 at (R2 #1) Alcoa 40
  • (R2 #4) Kingston 16 at (R2 #2) Austin-East 32
  • (R4 #2) Smith Co. 11 at (R3 #1) Loudon 38
  • (R3 #2) Red Bank 20 at (R4 #1) Upperman 21
  • (R5 #4) Giles Co. 20 at (R5 #2) Stratford 25
  • (R5 #3) East Nashville 11 at (R5 #1) Pearl-Cohn 32
  • (R7 #3) Covington 24 at (R7 #1) South Gibson 23
  • (R7 #2) Milan 22 at (R8 #1) Wooddale 25

4A

  • (R1 #2) Greeneville 30 at (R2 #1) Anderson Co. 26 (7:00 PM ET, WVLT-TV)
  • (R1 #3) Sullivan South 12 at (R1 #1) Elizabethton 35
  • (R3 #2) DeKalb Co. 14 at (R4 #1) Marshall Co. 33
  • (R4 #2) Nolensville 17 at (R3 #1) Livingston Academy 26
  • (R5 #2) Creek Wood 16 at (R6 #1) Hardin Co. 29
  • (R6 #2) Lexington 21 at (R5 #1) Springfield 23
  • (R7 #3) Ripley 13 at (R7 #1) Haywood 38
  • (R7 #2) Crockett Co. 29 at (R8 #1) Millington Central 19

5A

  • (R1 #2) Daniel Boone 17 at (R2 #1) South-Doyle 32
  • (R2 #4) Gibbs 25 at (R2 #2) Central 29
  • (R3 #4) Oak Ridge 14 at (R3 #2) Knoxville West 33
  • (R4 #2) Rhea Co. 13 at (R3 #1) Powell 35 
  • (R5 #2) Shelbyville Central 25 at (R6 #1) Beech 24 (7:00 PM CT, WUXP-TV)
  • (R5 #3) Summit 22 at (R5 #1) Page 24
  • (R7 #3) Clarksville 14 at (R7 #1) Henry Co. 34
  • (R7 #2) Dyer Co. 32 at (R8 #1) Southwind 27

6A

  • (R1 #2) Farragut 14 at (R2 #1) Maryville 37
  • (R1 #3) Bearden 16 at (R1 #1) Dobyns-Bennett 33
  • (R3 #2) Blackman 25 at (R4 #1) Hendersonville 24
  • (R4 #2) Mount Juliet 13 at (R3 #1) Oakland 41
  • (R6 #2) Ravenwood 31 at (R5 #1) Cane Ridge 20
  • (R6 #3) Independence 17 at (R6 #1) Brentwood 27
  • (R8 #2) White Station 17 at (R7 #1) Houston 33
  • (R8 #3) Memphis Central 7 at (R8 #1) Whitehaven 29

II-A

  • (E #3) Donelson Christian Academy 14 at (W #2) Davidson Academy 29
  • (W #5) Fayette Academy 17 at (W #1) Nashville Christian 37
  • (W #3) University School of Jackson 33 at (E #2) King’s Academy 21
  • (W #4) Columbia Academy 20 at (E #1) Friendship Christian 29

II-AA

  • (W #2) Lausanne Collegiate 20 at (M #2) Franklin Road Academy 31
  • (M #4) Lipscomb Academy 23 at (E #1) Grace Christian 25
  • (E #2) Chattanooga Christian 19 at (M #1) Christ Presbyterian Academy 27
  • (M #3) Battle Ground Academy 17 at (W #1) Evangelical Christian 29

II-AAA

  • (W #4) Christian Brothers 16 at (E #1) McCallie 34
  • (E #3) Ensworth 25 at (W #2) Briarcrest Christian 24
  • (E #4) Knox Catholic 22 at (W #1) Memphis University 31
  • (W #3) Montgomery Bell Academy 14 at (E #2) Baylor 24

Below are the best games by class, per my Game Score metric, along with how each team ranks in my Class Ratings. The parentheses is their region and seed; the number directly to the left of the team name is how they rank in their given class.

  • 1A: (R6 #2) #8 McEwen at (R5 #1) #9 Huntland
  • 2A: (R4 #2) #3 Trousdale Co. at (R3 #1) #5 Tyner Academy
  • 3A: (R7 #3) #4 Covington at (R7 #1) #7 South Gibson
  • 4A: (R1 #2) #1 Greeneville at (R2 #1) #3 Anderson Co.
  • 5A: (R5 #2) #4 Shelbyville Central at (R6 #1) #6 Beech
  • 6A: (R3 #2) #11 Blackman at (R4 #1) #14 Hendersonville
  • II-A: (W #4) #5 Columbia Academy at (E #1) #4 Friendship Christian
  • II-AA: (M #4) #5 Lipscomb Academy at (E #1) #6 Grace Christian
  • II-AAA: (E #3) #3 Ensworth at (W #2) #6 Briarcrest Christian

Various notes:

  • There’s a decent chance a title favorite loses. I have the nine favorites as collectively possessing a 40% chance of coming out of the second round unscathed. In order, the most likely upsets: Battle Ground Academy over Evangelical Christian (23.7% chance of happening), Christian Brothers over McCallie (14%), Fayette Academy over Nashville Christian (11.8%). As a bonus, the most likely public school upset: Rhea Co. over Powell (10%).
  • Also, plenty of other upsets! Favorites are expected to go 45.5-14.5 this week. In less silly terms: they’ll win about 75.9% of their games. You can expect 14-15 upsets, which would be 2-3 less than happened last week despite 48 fewer games. These games are much better.
  • Most vulnerable 10%+ championship contenders in each class:
    • 1A: South Pittsburg (2.5% chance of losing to Clay Co.)
    • 2A: Meigs Co. (13.7% chance of losing to South Greene)
    • 3A: Pearl-Cohn (10.6% chance of losing to East Nashville)
    • 4A: Greeneville (40.1% chance of losing to Anderson Co.)
    • 5A: South-Doyle (17.5% chance of losing to Daniel Boone)
    • 6A: Ravenwood (26.8% chance of losing to Cane Ridge)
    • II-A: Friendship Christian (30.5% chance of losing to Columbia Academy)
    • II-AA: Christ Presbyterian (30.6% chance of losing to Chattanooga Christian)
    • II-AAA: Ensworth (47.7% chance of losing to Briarcrest Christian)

Best of luck to all teams involved this week!

Show Me My Opponent: Murray State

I think I’ve always been impressed by the Murray State basketball program. I don’t know if I could pinpoint the exact time when I became aware of their existence and success; it’s as if they just appeared there one day, everyone agreed they were good, and that was that. And it’s a correct assumption! In the history of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, which now date back to the 1996-97 season, just twice have they finished the season ranked outside of his top 200…and they went 13-7 in conference play in both seasons.

It’s not as if Murray, Kentucky is the exact spot you’d have in mind for a mid-major power. Murray’s closest population center of serious note is Nashville, just under a two-hour drive away. The roster isn’t stacked with overlooked Kentucky kids from a basketball-loving state; only two players on the team call Kentucky their home, with one of them a serious contributor (Jaiveon Eaves). It’s a national roster of sorts, with 14 players from nine different states. Murray State is the OVC’s patchwork quilt, an assembly of varied parts that, for the most part, works in collective 12-14 seed anonymity.

Until 2018-19.

Almost on accident, Murray State ended up with the #2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Ja Morant was a high school also-ran that only ended up being discovered because a Murray State assistant checked out the #2 gym at a tournament. He went from that to taking Murray State to the Round of 32 for the third time in the last ten years.

Now, Morant is gone and Murray State is rebuilding…or so you’d think. What a lot of people don’t know about Murray’s 2019-20 team is the following:

  • Three of five starters return.
  • Five members of Murray’s eight-man rotation are back.
  • Their top two scorers departed, but their third-through-eighth highest scorers have returned.

All in all, it could be a lot worse for Oak Ridge’s very own, Matt McMahon. This is McMahon’s fifth season as the head of the Racers after a playing and coaching career at Appalachian State with one year at UNC-Wilmington in between. Tim Kaine – not the former VP candidate, but rather McMahon’s assistant – is also from Oak Ridge. Casey Long, another assistant, played at Chattanooga with Director of Player Development Ronrico White. The staff as a whole has a distinct Tennessee flavor to it. Now, they get to visit the home of the best basketball program in the state. As is the case seemingly every year, chances are the team they’re bringing with them is pretty solid.

WHAT THEY BRING

Offensive fluctuation with a lot to be answered

Here’s what I know about the 2019-20 Murray State Racers so far:

  • In an exhibition against Martin Methodist, KJ Williams took 17 shots. No other player took more than nine.
  • In Saturday’s outing against Southern University, Tevin Brown took 10 shots, while three others took seven or eight. No one else took more than four.

And that’s about it. When a team is forced to replace their top two scorers and rebuild around a group where no player scored more than 11.8 points per game the previous season or made more than four field goal attempts per game, it’s hard to draw huge, correct answers off of 80 minutes of basketball. What I can tell you is that even without Morant, Murray has largely ran the same offense for the last three-ish seasons of McMahon: lots of transition play with a focus on ball-screen sets in the half-court.

 

Transition/primary break offense is largely based on what you’re doing on the defensive end; if Tennessee does a good job of getting back, all I can tell you is that they’ll have to make sure Murray isn’t spacing the floor to its extremes like they’re used to. Let’s focus on the half-court game.

Ball-screen offense heavy on continuity sets

To start, you’re going to have to know about college basketball’s most popular play: the continuity ball screen. If I had to guess, I’d estimate at least 75% of Division I teams run this with fair frequency in some form. (Watch the first 90 seconds or so to get the gist of it.)

Murray State, unsurprisingly, counts themselves among said group. Here’s Morant and Leroy Buchanan running this last year:

Obviously, things aren’t going to look the exact same in 2019-20 for Murray, but a good amount of the philosophy will still remain. Murray offers the benefit of two legitimately very good post players in Darnell Cowart and K.J. Williams, both of whom could give Tennessee some serious issues down low. Before those two, let’s talk about the shooters off of these motion sets.

Tevin Brown (90 of 242, 37.2% in 2018-19):

Jaiveon Eaves (24 of 66, 36.4%):

I don’t know how much Brion Whitley, a 21-of-45 shooter in 2018-19 will play, as he was held out of the Martin Methodist and Southern games due to injury. However, the first two are certainly worth watching and guarding. Brown hit 5 of 9 threes against Marquette in Murray’s Round of 64 demolition; Eaves was less prolific, but you can’t dismiss a 36.4% shooter. Neither will have the benefit of the massive gravity Morant drew, however. I guess you can tell I’m hedging my bets here, and I am; I genuinely don’t know exactly what this offense looks like with this many points to be absorbed.

Murray, KY, home to Big Boy Records

On the scale of Chunk to Chonk, Darnell Cowart is OH LAWD HE COMIN’:

What a CHONK. Darnell Cowart is a 6’8″, 280 pound round boy, and this is after leaving junior college at over 300 pounds. To be a 280-pound post player having lost weight is pretty incredible. Sadly, I don’t have much to go off of for 2019-20 footage just yet, as they’ve held him out of play for all but 11 minutes thus far due to injury maintenance. Here’s one of his two baskets this season:

Hopefully he takes the floor at Thompson-Boling, as he possesses an excellent post-up skill set that should give Tennessee’s fledgling frontcourt quite a bit of practice.

On the other hand, there’s KJ Williams:

Williams is a 6’10”, 245 pound sophomore who took over a starting role last year in his first season with the Racers. He was hyper-efficient – 69.8% FG% – and remains hyper-dangerous.

Murray loves running him out as the roll man in ball-screen sets or in backdoor cut plays that also work for Cowart. Neither is an elite defender, so you can get to them on the other end…but both will do quite a bit of work on you on the offensive end. Like I said earlier, it’s worth noting that Williams took almost double the shots of any other Murray player in their exhibition. It wasn’t quite like that against Southern, but there’s a good chance their offense will feature him heavily this season.

Man-to-man defense that limits three-point attempts at the expense of post-up struggles/DREB issues

If you asked me to design a man-to-man defense for the average college basketball program, I’d probably toss in a few elements of what Murray State does. Matt McMahon’s squad has come in 6th and 4th the last two years in opponent 3PT%, which is traditionally not a stat that repeats itself. However, it helps when you’re well above the national average in preventing threes in the first place. Even when you get one off, Murray is usually pretty good about closing out on it:

However, there’s areas where you can crack the Murray egg. Remember what I mentioned earlier about Cowart and Williams being two exploitable players on the defensive end due to a lack of mobility? Neither is terribly efficient defending on the inside:

Also, just once under McMahon – actually, just once in the last 13 seasons – has Murray State ranked in the top 100 of defensive rebounding percentage. I know they were weak opponents, but Tennessee pretty much demolished Eastern New Mexico and UNC Asheville on the boards. They should be able to do similar work here, and it actually feels like an area where Yves Pons could be of massive use:

HOW TENNESSEE BEATS IT

Work it inside and make the Big Boys earn their keep

In a perfect world, Matt McMahon would give both Cowart and Williams 30+ minutes per game each. Instead, he barely got Cowart over 20 per game last season and had to hold Williams to 18. Why? Because Cowart committed 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes and Williams 4.1. In one of Murray’s five 2018-19 losses, Cowart went for 14 and 13 in just 23 minutes. It was as dominant of a per-minute showing as you’ll see, and yet, Cowart only got 23 minutes due to a four-foul outing. On the flip side, Williams was able to hold himself to just three fouls against Marquette and he went for 16 points in 24 minutes. Any amount of foul trouble you can get here is a huge bonus.

As such, Tennessee’s gotta go to the rim early and often, whether that’s with a post player:

Or with a guard:

Those aren’t and-ones like I’d prefer to use, but Tennessee has just one and-one through two games and it was a transition play, so we have what we have and that’s that.

Don’t give up on the perimeter entirely

Like I noted, I really do like what Murray does on defense, and I think there’s something to be said about their three-point defense. That said: they ranked right at the national average in terms of our beloved Guarded/Unguarded catch-and-shoot splits, with 58% of three-point attempts guarded, per Synergy. Also, it’s not as if they ranked #6 and #4 in preventing three-point attempts, but #90 and #80. I think it will be very hard to run out a third-straight top 10 3PT% defense season. If Tennessee’s patient and reverses the ball around the perimeter or uses their inside-out game, they should be able to find several open looks from downtown:

Crash the boards

Buddy it’s simple. Do I need to spell this one out?

A disclaimer: I do think Tennessee should only send three to the boards in this game instead of my preferred four-man rush. Murray State gets out in transition more than almost anyone in Division I basketball, and Tennessee needs to be prepared for McMahon’s initial rush. However, there’s no reason for Tennessee not to get quite a few offensive rebounds against this group. They may be thin, but they’re lanky and athletic and most of ’em can jump pretty well.

Stuff pick-and-rolls, whether at the rim or on the perimeter

Obviously, things will look a little different in 2019-20, but in half-court offense, Murray got over 42% of their field goal attempts at the rim last season, per Hoop Math. Tennessee’s rim defense has been very solid so far, and I’d hope to see a little more of this against pick-and-roll ball handlers:

On the perimeter, Tennessee’s defense was pretty excellent against UNC Asheville; the Bulldogs went 5-of-20 from three. Our Guarded/Unguarded split gave Tennessee an 8-of-14 (57.1%) success rate, but it felt better than that on rewatch. Tennessee’s been pretty excellent about closing out on spot-up opportunities like this one:

Get back in transition; don’t allow easy baskets

Murray loves to run; neither of Tennessee’s opponents really have so far. That said, Tennessee had at least a little practice against both. Tennessee forced UNC Asheville to play a 71-possession game, which would’ve been one of their four fastest games in 2018-19. Asheville went for 21 points on their 18 transition possessions (1.167 PPP), per Synergy; they went for 42 points on their other 53 (0.792 PPP), which is a large split. Tennessee got burned a few times:

However, on other possessions, they got back and defended quite well:

Tennessee needs far more of the latter and less of the former in order to attain the successful defense I know they’ve got in them.

LINEUP NOTES

A small twist this year: I’m posting the lineups for each team too, not just the starters/depth chart section. It’s a little longer, but provides way more context for most common lineups.

Murray State:

  • Again, this can change, but the first game against Southern made it seem pretty clear: Smith/Eaves/Brown/A. Smith/KJ Williams.
  • Murray played Williams and Cowart together in the starting lineup last year, and I suppose that could change for 2019-20, but it mostly appears that they’re waiting out Cowart’s recovery.
  • FWIW, Anthony Smith has taken 75 of his 77 field goal attempts from inside the arc in college. KJ Williams took a three against Southern and missed it, which now means he’s attempted six career threes. Barring a surprise outburst, Tennessee can pretty much know Murray will have three perimeter shooters and two interior players. Sort of a throwback Tuesday, if you will.

Tennessee:

  • Turner/Bowden/James/Pons/Fulkerson are the starters until further notice.
  • Against UNC Asheville, Tennessee gave no individual lineup more than 6.5 minutes of play; Barnes clearly took the opportunity to experiment and figure things out to its fullest extent. When your tenth-most-used lineup still got two minutes of use, you’re clearly still trying to get a rotation and its lineups solidified.
  • I don’t know if Drew Pember will be available for this game. If not, expect Tennessee to stick with the eight-man rotation it had against UNC Asheville with Zach Kent as the ninth.

KEY MATCHUPS

  • Josiah-Jordan James (and maybe Jordan Bowden) vs. Tevin Brown. Brown led Murray State in shot attempts against Southern and was expected to be the likely scoring leader on the team this season. He’s predominantly a three-point shooter but likes to get to the rim as well. Tennessee can’t commit many fouls here with a short rotation.
  • John Fulkerson/Yves Pons vs. KJ Williams/Darnell Cowart. There’s no easy solution here; I would’ve thrown in Nkamhoua too, but his 224 is not a super-muscular 224. Either of Williams or Cowart will have at least a 30-pound advantage on their Tennessee counterpart; I think the Vols have to be willing to double-team in the post and force the ball out of the hands of these two.

PREDICTION

Tennessee 78, Murray State 66.

Tennessee high school football playoff projections, Round of 32

The TSSAA playoffs have finally arrived! Here we are, sitting in the Round of 32, with 108 games on this week’s slate and a whole bunch of predictions. (As a reminder, the II-AAA playoffs start next Friday.) If you’d like to catch up on playoff odds, read this post; it serves as an overall preview with a good bit of analysis.

The Week 11 projections went 139-29 (82.7%), marking the sixth week in seven with an 80% hit rate or above. The final regular season record for these projections comes out to 1418-347 (80.3%), which, for a system projecting every single game from Week 1 onward, ended up doing pretty well. I think that these should be getting somewhere between 79-85% of playoff games correct, which would be a solid rate.

Anyway, the games. Every game, unless I’m told otherwise, starts at 7 PM local time. Some games may be on TV; as best as I can, I’ve tried to reflect that. Otherwise, the projection provides all the information you really need. At the tail end of the post, there will be some additional analysis of each class. What games have the most at stake? What’s the highest-quality matchup out there? First, here’s the predictions.

1A

  • (R2 #4) Harriman 18 at (R1 #1) Cloudland 29
  • (R2 #3) Coalfield 43 at (R1 #2) Hancock Co. 11
  • (R1 #4) Unaka 0 at (R2 #1) Greenback 60
  • (R1 #3) Jellico 0 at (R2 #2) Oliver Springs 52
  • (R4 #4) Byrns [Jo] 0 at (R3 #1) South Pittsburg 54
  • (R4 #3) Gordonsville 19 at (R3 #2) Copper Basin 27
  • (R3 #4) Whitwell 10 at (R4 #1) Monterey 39
  • (R3 #3) Sale Creek 9 at (R4 #2) Clay Co. 31
  • (R6 #4) Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central 4 at (R5 #1) Huntland 36
  • (R6 #3) Collinwood 13 at (R5 #2) Cornersville 30
  • (R5 #4) Richland 5 at (R6 #1) Huntingdon 45
  • (R5 #3) Mount Pleasant 24 at (R6 #2) McEwen 23
  • (R8 #4) Washington 4 at (R7 #1) Lake Co. 51
  • (R8 #3) Memphis East 16 at (R7 #2) West Carroll 31
  • (R7 #4) Dresden 18 at (R8 #1) Middle College 34
  • (R7 #3) Greenfield 25 at (R8 #2) Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering 21

2A

  • (R2 #4) Cumberland Gap 9 at (R1 #1) Hampton 42
  • (R2 #3) Rockwood 16 at (R1 #2) South Greene 27
  • (R1 #4) Happy Valley 2 at (R2 #1) Meigs Co. 36
  • (R1 #3) Sullivan North 11 at (R2 #2) Oneida 32
  • (R4 #4) Westmoreland 24 at (R3 #1) Tyner Academy 41
  • (R4 #3) East Robertson 17 at (R3 #2) Bledsoe Co. 25
  • (R3 #4) Tellico Plains 1 at (R4 #1) Watertown 43
  • (R3 #3) Marion Co. 4 at (R4 #2) Trousdale Co. 46
  • (R6 #4) Hickman Co. 9 at (R5 #1) Forrest 39
  • (R6 #3) Riverside 12 at (R5 #2) Lewis Co. 27
  • (R5 #4) Summertown 17 at (R6 #1) Waverly Central 26
  • (R5 #3) Eagleville 19 at (R6 #2) Houston Co. 24
  • (R8 #4) Memphis Academy of Health Sciences 2 at (R7 #1) Peabody 41
  • (R8 #3) Douglass [Frederick] 24 at (R7 #2) Union City 29
  • (R7 #4) Adamsville 11 at (R8 #1) Fairley 34
  • (R7 #3) McKenzie 17 at (R8 #2) Mitchell 26

3A

  • (R2 #4) Kingston 25 at (R1 #1) Chuckey-Doak 21
  • (R2 #3) GPittman 38 at (R1 #2) Unicoi Co. 19
  • (R1 #4) West Greene 0 at (R2 #1) Alcoa 52
  • (R1 #3) Johnson Co. 2 at (R2 #2) Austin-East 44
  • (R4 #4) York Institute 0 at (R3 #1) Loudon 46
  • (R4 #3) Sequatchie Co. 5 at (R3 #2) Red Bank 38
  • (R3 #4) Signal Mountain 10 at (R4 #1) Upperman 36
  • (R3 #3) Sweetwater 21 at (R4 #2) Smith Co. 24
  • (R6 #4) Stewart Co. 0 at (R5 #1) Pearl-Cohn 49
  • (R6 #3) Camden Central 10 at (R5 #2) Stratford 39
  • (R5 #4) Giles Co. 22.5 at (R6 #1) Fairview 23.2
  • (R5 #3) East Nashville 34 at (R6 #2) Sycamore 7
  • (R8 #4) Sheffield 0 at (R7 #1) South Gibson 59
  • (R8 #3) Raleigh-Egypt 0 at (R7 #2) Milan 43
  • (R7 #4) Westview 20 at (R8 #1) Wooddale 26
  • (R7 #3) Covington 37 at (R8 #2) Melrose 5

4A

  • (R2 #4) East Ridge 6 at (R1 #1) Elizabethton 41
  • (R2 #3) Howard Tech 13 at (R1 #2) Greeneville 38
  • (R1 #4) Grainger 8 at (R2 #1) Anderson Co. 43
  • (R1 #3) Sullivan South 16 at (R2 #2) East Hamilton 33
  • (R4 #4) Maplewood 6 at (R3 #1) Livingston Academy 34
  • (R4 #3) Tullahoma 31 at (R3 #2) DeKalb Co. 14
  • (R3 #4) Stone Memorial 3 at (R4 #1) Marshall Co. 43
  • (R3 #3) Macon Co. 9 at (R4 #2) Nolensville 35
  • (R6 #4) Jackson South Side 13 at (R5 #1) Springfield 29
  • (R6 #3) Jackson North Side 24 at (R5 #2) Creek Wood 27
  • (R5 #4) Portland 9 at (R6 #1) Hardin Co. 39
  • (R5 #3) White House-Heritage 21 at (R6 #2) Lexington 27
  • (R8 #4) Craigmont 0 at (R7 #1) Haywood 58
  • (R8 #3) Bolton 2 at (R7 #2) Crockett Co. 52
  • (R7 #4) Dyersburg 19 at (R8 #1) Millington Central 28
  • (R7 #3) Ripley 24 at (R8 #2) Fayette Ware 23

5A

  • (R2 #4) Gibbs 19 at (R1 #1) Tennessee 37
  • (R2 #3) Knoxville Halls 23 at (R1 #2) Daniel Boone 27
  • (R1 #4) Cherokee 10 at (R2 #1) South-Doyle 43
  • (R1 #3) David Crockett 21 at (R2 #2) Central 31
  • (R4 #4) Lenoir City 0 at (R3 #1) Powell 58
  • (R4 #3) Walker Valley 8 at (R3 #2) Knoxville West 46
  • (R3 #4) Oak Ridge 28 at (R4 #1) Soddy Daisy 24
  • (R3 #3) Fulton 18 at (R4 #2) Rhea Co. 31
  • (R6 #4) Hunters Lane 1 at (R5 #1) Page 40
  • (R6 #3) Hillsboro 15 at (R5 #2) Shelbyville Central 36
  • (R5 #4) Columbia Central 11 at (R6 #1) Beech 33
  • (R5 #3) Summit 19 at (R6 #2) Gallatin 23
  • (R8 #4) Ridgeway 12 at (R7 #1) Henry Co. 34
  • (R8 #3) Kirby 22 at (R7 #2) Dyer Co. 30
  • (R7 #4) Kenwood 13 at (R8 #1) Southwind 45
  • (R7 #3) Clarksville 23 at (R8 #2) Munford 26

6A

  • (R2 #4) William Blount 7 at (R1 #1) Dobyns-Bennett 42
  • (R2 #3) Bradley Central 33 at (R1 #2) Farragut 28
  • (R1 #4) Science Hill 11 at (R2 #1) Maryville 44
  • (R1 #3) Bearden 21 at (R2 #2) McMinn Co. 32
  • (R4 #4) Lebanon 8 at (R3 #1) Oakland 44
  • (R4 #3) Wilson Central 13 at (R3 #2) Blackman 32
  • (R3 #4) Cookeville 16 at (R4 #1) Hendersonville 35
  • (R3 #3) Riverdale 22.4 at (R4 #2) Mount Juliet 21.6
  • (R6 #4) Franklin 17 at (R5 #1) Cane Ridge 33
  • (R6 #3) Independence 29 at (R5 #2) Smyrna 18
  • (R5 #4) McGavock 1 at (R6 #1) Brentwood 43
  • (R5 #3) Stewarts Creek 11 at (R6 #2) Ravenwood 38
  • (R8 #4) Germantown 9 at (R7 #1) Houston 41
  • (R8 #3) Memphis Central 24 at (R7 #2) Collierville 25
  • (R7 #4) Cordova 4 at (R8 #1) Whitehaven 28
  • (R7 #3) Bartlett 15 at (R8 #2) White Station 26

II-A

  • (W #6) Tipton-Rosemark Academy 20 at (E #3) Donelson Christian Academy 28
  • (W #5) Fayette Academy 38 at (E #4) Middle Tennessee Christian 19
  • (E #6) Grace Baptist Academy 0 at (W #3) University School of Jackson 46
  • (E #5) Mount Juliet Christian Academy 10 at (W #4) Columbia Academy 43

II-AA

  • (M #5) Goodpasture Christian 14 at (E #1) Grace Christian 36
  • (E #4) CAK 22 at (E #2) Chattanooga Christian 27
  • (M #4) Lipscomb Academy 32 at (E #3) Boyd-Buchanan 23
  • (E #5) Webb 9 at (M #1) Christ Presbyterian Academy 30
  • (W #5) Northpoint Christian 3 at (M #2) Franklin Road Academy 43
  • (W #3) First Assembly Christian 11 at (M #3) Battle Ground Academy 44
  • (W #6) Harding Academy 0 at (W #1) Evangelical Christian 51
  • (W #4) St. George’s 14 at (W #2) Lausanne Collegiate 34

Below are the best games by class, along with how each team ranks in my Class Ratings. The parentheses is their region and seed; the number directly to the left of the team name is how they rank in their given class.

  • 1A: (R5 #3) #8 Mount Pleasant at (R6 #2) #10 McEwen
  • 2A: (R5 #3) #16 Eagleville at (R6 #2) #12 Houston Co.
  • 3A: (R5 #4) #15 Giles Co. at (R6 #1) #17 Fairview
  • 4A: (R6 #3) #13 Jackson North Side at (R5 #2) #12 Creek Wood
  • 5A: (R5 #3) #10 Summit at (R6 #2) #9 Gallatin
  • 6A: (R3 #3) #15 Riverdale at (R4 #2) #19 Mount Juliet
  • II-A: (W #6) #10 Tipton-Rosemark Academy at (E #3) #7 Donelson Christian Academy
  • II-AA: (E #4) #8 CAK at (E #2) #7 Chattanooga Christian

Various other notes:

  • There’s probably going to be a couple big upsets. My system has 54 teams as 22-point favorites or greater; the odds are only about 23% that all 54 win their games. Weird stuff happens in high school football. If you want to expand it a little, there’s only a 1% chance every 15-point or higher favorite wins. Something funny will happen.
  • Looking for a favorite or title contender to get upset? These offer the highest odds of a shock outcome. Remember, we’re looking for teams with 5% title odds or higher.
    • Gibbs over Tennessee (13.5% odds of happening; Tennessee 6.5% title odds); Webb over Christ Presbyterian Academy (10.6% odds; CPA 20.2% title odds); Columbia Central over Beech (10.2% odds; Beech 6.5% title odds); Goodpasture Christian over Grace Christian (9.6% odds; Grace 7.8% title odds); Ridgeway over Henry County (9.1% odds; Henry Co. 13.3% title odds).
  • Looking for an outright favorite to lose? Not likely to happen; Maryville (2.9% to lose to Science Hill) offers the, uh, best? odds.

Best of luck to all teams involved this week!

2019 Tennessee high school football playoff odds + analysis

This is a companion piece to what’s on Twitter today. A quick explainer:

  1. Remember that this is a loose guide to how the playoff may go. Because one team is 2% more likely to win the title does not necessarily mean they’d beat said team head-to-head. It just means they’ve got a slightly higher chance of winning five straight games. Please do not Tweet at me about this unless you’ve read the rest of the article.
  2. The analysis here is brief by nature. I don’t have the time or energy to discuss why one team is 2% more likely to win the title. That’s what the ratings have gathered after 11 weeks of football; considering they’ve nailed 80% of game predictions in all but one of the last seven weeks, they’re probably going to be accurate.
  3. These are not perfect ratings, and they fluctuate week-to-week. 14-to-18 year olds are…well, not the most consistent people on the planet. As such, it’s hard for them to churn out robotic, in-line-with-ranking performances weekly. What happens if a team wins by 20 more points than they were expected to? Well, they’ll likely get a small ratings bump. If a team that was supposed to win by 28 wins by 4? A small ratings decrease.
  4. Why is (insert team) not favored to beat (insert team)? They haven’t played anybody! (shrug)

1A

Favorites (20% or higher): South Pittsburg (35.1% to win 1A title), Lake County (28.4%), Huntingdon (28.3%)
Second-tier contenders (5% or higher): Greenback (7.1%)

Analysis: As much as high school football can be predictable, you can pretty easily outline the semifinals: South Pittsburg will travel to the Greenback/Oliver Springs winner, while Huntingdon will host Lake County. There’s an 88% chance of the first thing happening and an 87% chance of the second. Huntingdon would be favored because they’re at home. Greenback fans are a little dismayed at being underdogs to South Pittsburg, but I think it’s fair. Greenback lost to Meigs County 27-20; South Pittsburg beat Meigs, 27-16. Also, South Pitt and Greenback own the same number of Top 10000 wins on MaxPreps. Will it be a close game? Of course! Should South Pitt be the favorite right now? I think so.

2A

Favorites: Peabody (53.9% to win 2A), Meigs County (22.3%)
Second-tier contenders: Watertown (7%), Trousdale County (6.7%), Forrest (4.9%)
Darkhorses: Fairley (1.6%), Tyner Academy (1.1%), Hampton (1.1%)

Analysis: Again, looks fair. There’s one thing I feel pretty confident about: Peabody making the 2A title game. Other than that, there’s a lot of uncertainty. The system isn’t quite sure who’s better between a pair of excellent teams in Watertown and Trousdale County (it would favor Trousdale by about 2.5 points on a neutral field), and plenty of secondary contenders lurk in the shadows. Meanwhile, Meigs County has to beat either Hampton (#8 in my 2A ratings) or Oneida (#11) to get to a semifinal against any of Trousdale (#3), Watertown (#4), or Tyner (#6). Peabody, meanwhile, wouldn’t have to play anyone tougher than Forrest (#5) or Lewis Co. (#9) in the semifinals.

3A

Favorites: Pearl-Cohn (45.2% to win 3A), Alcoa (41.9%)
Second-tier contenders: Loudon (5.6%)
Darkhorses: Covington (2.8%), South Gibson (1.8%), Red Bank (1.1%)

Analysis: Predictably, this is the most controversial projection by a mile. Alcoa’s won four straight 3A titles; Pearl-Cohn hasn’t won one since 1997 and has only made the title game once since then. So why is Pearl-Cohn a tiny favorite? Let me offer the following four-step theory:

  1. Pearl-Cohn, not Alcoa, was in the slightly tougher region. Before your eyes hit the back of your head, consider this: in Region play, Pearl-Cohn had to beat East Nashville (#7 in 3A ratings) and Stratford (#10) to finish undefeated. Alcoa played Gatlinburg-Pittman (#11) and Austin-East (#12), but played no other 3A-2 competition tougher than Kingston (#21). Add in that Giles County (#15) was in Pearl-Cohn’s region, and it makes a little more sense.
  2. Alcoa’s non-region schedule was slightly tougher, but Pearl-Cohn’s was nothing to sneeze at. Pearl-Cohn owns the better best win (Montgomery Bell Academy versus Dobyns-Bennett) and three of the best four (Independence, Cane Ridge) before we get to Alcoa’s second-best win (Blackman). The bottom end of both schedules sucked, but it’s hard to find a public school schedule you can’t say that about. Alcoa’s only sin on the season was a two-touchdown loss to Maryville; if you removed that one game from their ratings, they would get about a 1-2 point bump…or enough to still make them co-favorites with Pearl-Cohn, if not about half-a-point favorites on a neutral field.
  3. Alcoa does have the better point differential on the season, but the ratings I use generally have a cutoff point of useful margin of victory, usually set in the 30s. In all honesty, it’s hard to say a team is truly better because they beat an overwhelmed opponent by 56 and not 42.
  4. Also, these two teams are just really good, possibly equally so. Pearl-Cohn allowed more than 15 points in a game once all season; Alcoa never allowed more than 17. I think they are perfectly acceptable co-favorites. The ratings favor Pearl-Cohn by 1.4 points on a neutral field, which translates to…a 53% chance of beating Alcoa. It is, quite literally, a coin flip. If the coin flip goes Alcoa’s way, it is not surprising in any meaningful sense. Same for Pearl-Cohn.

Anyway, focusing on the Alcoa/P-C issue makes it hard to talk about the others in this class, especially because said title game has a 58% chance of coming to fruition. In the 42% chance it doesn’t, here are the most likely culprits: Loudon, who has stunned everyone this year in becoming an East Tennessee force; Covington, who struggled for two weeks midseason and has mostly recovered; South Gibson, who has one loss all season by a single point in the Game of the Year (Haywood, 50-49).

4A

Favorites: Haywood (22.6%), Elizabethton (20.3%)
Second-tier contenders: Anderson Co. (11.8%), Greeneville (11.2%), Hardin Co. (10.6%), Livingston Academy (9.1%), Marshall Co. (8.4%)
Darkhorses: Crockett Co. (1.3%), Nolensville (1.3%), Tullahoma (1.2%), East Hamilton (1%)

Analysis: Meanwhile, this class could get stupid quickly. I’ve never seen seven teams at 8% or higher to win the title, and all of them have great arguments. Let me clarify each.

  1. Haywood: The Tomcats are #6 in my 4A ratings, which should immediately let you know that they would be underdogs to all of Greeneville, Elizabethton, Anderson County, Livingston Academy, and Marshall County on a neutral field. And yet: they’re the 4A favorite. Why? Because they have the easiest path to the semifinals, and finals, by far. Haywood would play no team rated higher than #11 Crockett County in 4A prior to the semifinals. Their toughest-possible 4A semifinal opponent is #7 Hardin County, who they’d be a ~2 point favorite on the road at. That is why Haywood is the 4A favorite. Also, they’re a good football team.
  2. Elizabethton: Betsy’s case makes more sense. They’re #2 in my ratings by 0.8 points behind Greeneville, a team they beat. Why is this the case? The ratings see a Betsy team that had to go 3-0 in one-score games to finish 10-0, including against a Greeneville team they trailed by 14 in the third quarter to. That generally doesn’t happen, and this is before it gets into the case of having to play either Greeneville or Anderson County (#3) in the quarterfinals before likely playing Livingston Academy (#4) or Marshall County (#5) in the semifinals. It is a brutal slate just to make the 4A title game.
  3. Anderson County: Same as Elizabethton, but with the added misfortune of almost certainly drawing Greeneville (#1) in the second round, followed by Elizabethton (#2) in the quarterfinals. If they beat both, crown them 4A champions on the field.
  4. Greeneville: Same as Elizabethton and Anderson County.
  5. Hardin County: Hardin County lost their first game to McNairy Central by 14 and then immediately took off. They’re 9-0 since, though three of the wins were by seven or fewer points. Hardin County’s path to the semifinals is relatively easy to chart: beat #30 Portland in the first round, either #12 Creek Wood or #13 Jackson North Side in the second, beat either #14 Springfield or #16 Lexington in the quarterfinals.
  6. Livingston Academy: #4 team in 4A, 10-0. This is a very good football team that has the misfortune of playing in the top half of the bracket. To make the title game, they have to go through #9 Nolensville in the second round, either #5 Marshall County or #8 Tullahoma in the quarterfinals, and then one of #1 Greeneville, #2 Elizabethton, or #3 Anderson County in the semifinals.
  7. Marshall County: Livingston Academy’s slate, but having to play #8 Tullahoma in the second round.

5A

Favorites: Powell (38%)
Second-tier contenders: Henry County (13.3%), South-Doyle (13%), Knoxville West (8.5%), Beech (6.5%), Tennessee (6.5%), Page (5.1%)
Darkhorses: Shelbyville Central (4.8%), Gallatin (2.1%)

Analysis: Powell went 10-0 against the toughest schedule in 5A by my ratings, so they’re the favorite. Behind them in odds is a Henry County team with a relatively easy semifinals path, a South-Doyle team that is either great (38-10 over Central, 61-7 over Grace) or terrible (7-3 loss to Seymour) that Powell beat, a Knoxville West team that Powell beat, a Beech squad that’s 10-0 with *three* wins by four points or less, a Tennessee High team that surprised everyone to go 9-1, and two Region 5 squads (Page and Shelbyville Central) that essentially played to a draw earlier in the season. Also, Gallatin is here. The most likely game is Powell/Henry County, but there’s just a 17% shot of it happening. Powell has to go through #2 Knoxville West and likely #3 South-Doyle just to make the 5A title game.

6A

Favorites: Maryville (28%), Oakland (25.3%)
Second-tier contenders: Ravenwood (17.5%), Houston (8.4%), Dobyns-Bennett (6.8%), Brentwood (6.3%), Whitehaven (6%)

Analysis: Correctly, everyone is awaiting a Maryville/Oakland rematch in the semifinals. However: this could theoretically not happen. Why? Consider Maryville likely has to travel to Dobyns-Bennett, an 8-2 football team that’s #6 in my ratings, for the quarterfinals. That’s fairly tough! Also, Oakland has to beat either Blackman (#10) or Hendersonville (#13)….okay, they’re just about a semifinals lock. But still: Maryville’s road is a little tougher than you’d think, though they’re #1 in my ratings over Oakland. Other teams involved: Ravenwood is a five-point favorite on a neutral field over anyone in the bottom half of the bracket, though even a quarterfinals appearance requires a win at #8 Cane Ridge. Houston will make the quarterfinals and so will Whitehaven, but only one of them can make the semifinals. Also, Brentwood is still here and would host Ravenwood in the quarterfinals.

II-A

Favorites: Nashville Christian (50.4%), Davidson Academy (22.1%)
Second-tier contenders: University School of Jackson (14.1%), Friendship Christian (9.9%)
Darkhorses: Columbia Academy (1.8%), Fayette Academy (1.2%)

Analysis: Not much of it is needed. Nashville Christian is the only undefeated school in II-A and is an eight-point favorite on a neutral field over every team in II-A, though they do have to play #3 USJ in the semifinals. Their most likely title game opponent would be #2 Davidson Academy, but they have to travel to #4 Friendship Christian to get there. I can’t say I really foresee any team below those four making the title game or winning it all, but high school football is a weird sport.

II-AA

Favorites: Evangelical Christian (52.8%), Christ Presbyterian Academy (20.2%)
Second-tier contenders: Grace Christian (7.8%), Franklin Road Academy (7.3%), Battle Ground Academy (5.6%)
Darkhorses: Lipscomb Academy (3.1%), Chattanooga Christian (1.7%)

Analysis: Pretty similar to II-A, actually. Evangelical has been the best team in II-AA for most of the season, but the real surprise is how well Christ Presbyterian has recovered from an 0-4 start. CPA has been lights-out for the second half of the season, and if you just included ratings from Week 5 onward, they’d be just a one-point underdog on a neural site against Evangelical. However, it’s not quite that simple: just to make the title game, CPA has to beat #7 Chattanooga Christian or #8 CAK, followed by a likely matchup against either #4 Grace Christian or #6 Lipscomb Academy. It’s a tough road made tougher by how close the competition has been in this class this year. CPA/Evangelical is the most likely title game, but Grace/Evangelical isn’t far behind.

II-AAA

Favorites: McCallie (32.7%), Baylor (27.8%)
Second-tier contenders: Memphis University (12.8%), Ensworth (10.8%), Briarcrest Christian (6.7%), Montgomery Bell Academy (5.6%)
Darkhorses: Knoxville Catholic (3%)

Analysis: Things were basically perfect for McCallie until two weeks ago, when they lost to Clearwater Academy International. That was followed by a surprising home loss to Ensworth, and now, McCallie looks like a different team in a bad way. There are zero off days in this insanely tough class; even their opening game against Christian Brothers will be difficult. McCallie gets to avoid Baylor, Memphis University, MBA, and Knoxville Catholic until the finals….which still means they have to go through Ensworth (#3 in II-AAA ratings) a second time or Briarcrest Christian (#6), who was undefeated until Week 11. This class is absolutely bonkers; any non-Christian Brothers winner really does seem realistic.

Show Me My Opponent: UNC Asheville

Asheville: it’s a good American city. Think of all the great things you can do there: eat good food, go to excellent breweries, see a quality concert every now and then. Sometimes, it feels like it gets lost in the shuffle of larger Southeastern cities; indeed, it’s far smaller than I initially thought (estimated population of 92,000, per Wikipedia), and it ranks out as just the 108th-largest metropolitan area in the United States.

And yet: I’d take Asheville over all but four cities in this list. It’s a very pleasant downtown to visit, and pound-for-pound, it might be the most purely enjoyable visit in the Southeast, considering relatively minimal traffic and the lower population. It’s a city that punches well above its weight class and can be counted on to beat a few of the bigger guys out there.

For a while, its basketball program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville mirrored the city’s progress. From 2007-08 to 2017-18, the Bulldogs of Asheville finished with a winning record in the Big South every season, made the NCAA Tournament three times, nearly pulled off a 16-seed stunner, and, for the better part of this run, was the program to beat in the Big South under a pair of talented head coaches (Eddie Biedenbach and Nicholas McDevitt).

McDevitt left for Middle Tennessee in 2018; behind him came Mike Morrell, a 36-year-old from Elizabethton, TN. If you want a true started-from-the-bottom guy, it’s him: Morrell played at Milligan College, began his coaching career at King University, and only breached Division I because of a relationship with Shaka Smart. Morrell bears some amount of responsibility for the following Guys You Know: Troy Daniels, Treveon Graham, Briante Weber, Isaiah Taylor, and Jarrett Allen.

Now, Morrell is in the midst of a program-wide teardown operation. Last year, UNC Asheville posted a 4-27 record – 4-0 against a pair of non-D-Is plus USC Upstate, 0-27 against everyone else, including a D-II loss – while playing the youngest lineup in America. Upon Morrell’s arrival at UNCA in April 2018, his two best players immediately transferred out, followed by valuable backup Drew Rackley. This was after the team he inherited graduated three starters and its sixth man. Any time a team loses its eight best players, things are going to be, uh, challenging.

Morrell’s hope and prayer is that his full-on youth movement in 2018-19 pays off in 2019-20. KenPom sees a program that realistically can’t be any worse, spotting them 293rd after a 347th-place run last year; Torvik, 241st after 344th. The benefit of last year’s awfulness: other than Donovan Gilmore, every UNC Asheville scholarship player from 2018-19 returns, and they get to add a pair of transfers in Jax Levitch (Fort Wayne) and Lavar Batts (NC State). The assumption here is that the worst days are over and, in Morrell’s true Year One, the program will at least be a mid-level Big South foe. Alternately, this could still be a really bad team with a long, long way to go. We’ll see.

AFTER THE JUMP: Hey did you know their coach is a Shaka disciple

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