E.J. Anosike brings more than just rebounding to Tennessee

A light in the sports wilderness! Finally!

Obviously, I’m quite thrilled to be talking about an actual real basketball event of any sort. Plus, this one figures to go better than my last preview of a transfer, who was a guy that didn’t even end up at Tennessee. E.J. Anosike has a ton to offer a Tennessee team that will be almost perfectly split between freshmen and old hands: a newcoming old hand that brings sorely-needed rebounding skills to the worst defensive rebounding squad in the SEC.

Beyond that, there’s more to Anosike than his admittedly great rebounding skills. You don’t get to be #6 on ESPN’s Top Graduate Transfers list exclusively by rebounding, and you don’t get to be an important piece of an SEC squad with just one skill. Anosike can score, can shoot, and likely enters as a seriously useful bench piece for a Tennessee team in desperate need of useful bench pieces. (In case you’ve happily forgotten, Tennessee went with a six-man rotation in the final four games of the year and just about stopped playing all of the freshmen + Uros Plavsic entirely.)

The goal with this piece is in two parts:

  1. Figure out what E.J. Anosike’s skills and limitations are;
  2. Also figure out the best ways Tennessee can emphasize the good parts and hide the less-good ones.

As such: consider this a Show Me My Opponent where the opponent is actually your new pal E.J.

WHAT E.J. ANOSIKE BRINGS

Solid, useful post skills

The data for Anosike against high-end competition is obviously going to be limited; Sacred Heart’s home of the Northeast Conference hasn’t won a single first-round NCAA Tournament game and the conference itself ranks 27th of 32nd on KenPom. So, yeah, the Pioneers of Sacred Heart didn’t get to play Kentucky and Florida three times in a season. Per KenPom, Anosike got to play against six Tier A (Quadrant 1 equivalent) opponents in his three-year career, with an additional five games against Tier B (Quadrant 2 equivalent).

The Tier A stats aren’t perfect – 11-for-26 from two, two 4+ foul games, three double-digit losses – but Anosike himself seemed to handle the spotlight fairly well. In Sacred Heart’s two Tier A games in 2019-20, Anosike got as many free throw attempts (18) as he did shot attempts, which is pretty remarkable.

Anosike wasn’t quite as dominant on the boards as he was against lesser competition, but getting five offensive rebounds against Providence is something that…well, nobody on Tennessee would’ve done this past season. His Tier B stats were better: 15.5 PPG, 9 RPG, and a 55.6% hit rate from two. In particular, he had a lot of success inside the perimeter against Tier B opponent UCF, going 6-for-9:

I can’t tell you for certain what Tennessee’s schedule will look like in 2020-21, but you can pretty much know Anosike will face tougher competition than ever before. Tennessee played 19 Tier A + B opponents in 2019-20 and 20 in 2018-19; Anosike must rise his own game to match the competition. That said: Tennessee will likely play half or slightly under half of its schedule against the competition level that Anosike demolished at Sacred Heart.

Potential to be unlocked as a shooter; hits shots off the dribble pretty well

The headline sums it up fairly well, but I want to talk about sample sizes. E.J. Anosike attempted 403 free throws at Sacred Heart; he attempted 136 threes, with all but five of them coming after his freshman year. In his sophomore year, Anosike made 36.5% of his 52 attempts; in his junior year, 25.3% of 79. Here’s my two points:

  • We almost certainly know much more about Anosike’s free throw shooting than we do his three-point shooting;
  • We can then say that Anosike’s truth lies somewhere between the two extremes of his sophomore and junior years.

Anosike got open frequently in Sacred Heart’s offense, and I find it hard to think that he wouldn’t get open¬†more¬†often in a Tennessee offense that has Santiago Vescovi, Jaden Springer, and Josiah-Jordan James at the very least. Anosike’s Synergy splits are quite bizarre; he’s actually a pretty good shooter when at least somewhat guarded.

However: he became one of the worst shooters in his conference when left open.

As usual, my guess is a combination of small sample size + statistical anomaly. It’s meaningless, mostly. What’s more meaningful is this: in 2019-20, players who made between 70-75% of their free throws – as Anosike has done every season of his career – averaged a 34% hit rate from three. The middle two-thirds of the sample ranged everywhere from 30-38%. Considering Anosike was at the extreme bottom end based on a 79-shot sample but was¬†above¬†the average one year before, it’s reasonable to think he can hit that 30-38% range from three. That gives Tennessee something they didn’t have off the bench, and it makes him especially valuable in small-ball lineups.

Oh yeah, and his off-the-dribble pull-ups look good to me. I would prefer that he either takes one more dribble towards the basket or just takes the three, but if he’s comfortable from 17+ feet and hits at the rate we’re looking for on mid-range attempts (40% or higher), then you can’t really discourage that as a coach.

A more versatile P&R piece than Tennessee’s had in some time

With an important qualifier, that is. Yves Pons did a solid job when called upon as the roll half of a pick-and-roll, and popped out for wide-open threes about once every couple of games. I wish Tennessee had run that more, but I’ve also wished they’d use more ball-screen actions for most of the last three years. Anosike offered a¬†very¬†diverse split of rolls, pops, and slips at Sacred Heart, and it’s not really something that anyone at Tennessee has done to date.

He’s unafraid to drive to the basket from the perimeter:

And he’s good at finishing off of more traditional looks:

How much Anosike plays is heavily dependent on Yves Pons staying/not staying for 2020-21, but if Pons¬†does¬†stay, you’re looking at a guy who can realistically give you 15 minutes a night of diverse offensive action and high-end rebounding.

Oh yeah, and the rebounding

It is really good. Pound-for-pound, Anosike is likely the best non-6’10″+ rebounder Tennessee has had since Jeronne Maymon or even Jarnell Stokes. This appears simple, but Anosike anticipates his own misses very well:

And I admire that Anosike is¬†really¬†smart as a rebounder, in that his first instinct isn’t always to go straight back up. I love how he finds an open man here:

Even in a bench role, this is a type of player that can frustrate Tennessee opponents into some bad fouls. Six different times last season, he attempted 10+ free throws; Tennessee as a team did that eight times all season, and half of those were John Fulkerson in the final month of the season. If opponents hated how many fouls Fulkerson drew down the stretch of SEC play, the potential is there for Anosike to draw a lot of ire from those that run sports radio stations in the state of Kentucky.

On-ball defense needs work

To be frank, Anosike’s got a lot to do on the defensive side. The advanced metrics aren’t impressed with his defense, giving him a below-average Box-Plus Minus all three years at SHU. (This could be a team-wide issue, of course, as SHU was terrible defensively. That said, Anosike only graded out as the third-best defender among SHU’s regular starters and fourth-best out of the rotation as a whole.) In particular, he’s struggled to keep up with shooters on the perimeter:

And Synergy has him as a rather paltry isolation defender.

Of course, Tennessee can limit this damage by putting Anosike on larger guys that aren’t good shooters, i.e. 70% of the SEC’s starting centers. He doesn’t lose many rebounding battles, so you don’t have to worry about the height difference. That also leads into his main positive as a defender.

Good, solid post defender

Synergy rates out Anosike as being very good in the post across all games, which makes sense. His skill set represents that of an undersized 4 by height only; it is worth noting that Anosike is 245 pounds and appears well-built. He’s held his own against the best competition SHU faced, along with everyone else.

Tennessee can use these skills against the stiffs of the schedule, as I mentioned, as well as against basically any PF/C in Quadrants 3 & 4. I don’t think anyone is currently anticipating Anosike to start; we are all generally anticipating him to be a useful, good piece from the bench when Tennessee needs him to be.

Various other skills

These are more flashes than anything of serious consistency, but they’re worth noting nonetheless. At times, Anosike shows active hands, and perhaps with better defensive coaching, he’ll do it more often.

Synergy says Anosike got much better at pick-and-roll defense from 2018-19 to 2019-20, and the video looks to back it up. In 2018-19 he struggled to make decisions fast enough; in 2019-20, he appeared more decisive and better at forcing tough shots:

More of that and Tennessee has a quality defensive piece in some specialized spots. Also, you don’t need any video to be reminded of his excellent rebounding capabilities.

HOW TENNESSEE USES HIM

Uh…exactly where you think? By height, Anosike would theoretically be locked in at the 4 or even the 3. However, Anosike didn’t play the 3 at all at Sacred Heart, and it’s hard to rationalize playing a guy at the 3 that you¬†hope¬†can get to 34% or thereabouts from three. Anosike will be at the 4, and I think he’d be a really good fit as a super-small-ball 5.

Imagine the following lineup whenever Fulkerson needs rest:

  • PG:¬†Vescovi or Bailey
  • SG:¬†Keon Johnson
  • SF:¬†Springer (or JJJ)
  • PF:¬†Pons
  • C:¬†Anosike

Is that a small lineup? Sure…in theory. Johnson is 6’4″ and Springer 6’5″, so you’re not going all that small. Anyway, look at that lineup. It contains a point guard (either one!) that’s comfortable out to 30 feet, two hyper-athletic wings, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and an elite rebounder that is willing to shoot threes. All five players can¬†and¬†will shoot, and that’s not something Tennessee has offered in my lifetime.

Even so, Anosike at the 4 is worthy of thinking about happily, too. I think he and Fulkerson can play at the same time in a way I absolutely never thought Nkamhoua and Fulkerson or Plavsic and Fulkerson could. Plus, I’m not¬†totally¬†out on the idea of playing Anosike with one of Nkamhoua/Plavsic as a second-string lineup, but that’s mostly because it’s not a lineup with¬†both¬†of those players at the same time.

Anyway, this is a nice addition to a Tennessee team that I think pretty much everyone has in their 2020-21 top 15-20. Could they end up better than that? Of course, and having depth pieces like this is how you ensure a higher floor in March.

Show Me My Opponent: Alabama (#2)

Written Tuesday evening:

SEC Tournament season, baby! Are you feeling the fire? Are you feeling the excitement? Do you know that¬†It Just Means More‚ĄĘ? With zero teams in KenPom’s top 25 and about four teams you can confidently say are making the NCAA Tournament, I can’t imagine not being full-throated ecstatic over the re-arrival of this thing. SEC basketball is here! 4.5 whole days of it! Man, I’m almost tearing up at the thought of the classics to come. Get ready, y’all.

In all seriousness, I’ve talked about this for a while, but this is the worst SEC in at least seven years and possibly further back. The best team in the pack is pretty clearly Kentucky, a team almost perfectly suited for the 1994 NCAA Tournament, and the teams behind it are all varying shades of gray. 2 seed Auburn spent the first three months of the season exhausting its entire supply of luck before crash-landing over the final three weeks. (Still beat Tennessee twice, of course.) 3 seed LSU had the best offense in conference play and paired it with the 12th-best defense. Mississippi State, South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M…other than Florida, who amazingly will be in the Field of 68, will you remember anything these teams did in a week?

Anyway, that leads us to our 8 and 9 seeds: Tennessee and Alabama. They’ve already played once, with Tennessee completing a wild and objectively very funny double-digit road comeback to beat the Tide. This Tennessee team is young and hyper-flawed, and yet they’re capable of¬†that. Alabama, likewise, is a very young team that can be as fun as anyone in America some nights, yet simply opted to not participate in the NCAA Tournament after it arrived on the horizon as a serious possibility in late January.

One season is going to end earlier than the fanbase involved would have hoped or really imagined two months back. The other season will be extended until at least Friday, where the most likely outcome is a defeat at the hands of a team that hasn’t cracked the KenPom top 20 in nearly two months. Next year will be quite a bit better for both schools.

Written Thursday morning:

Are we sure we should be playing this game?

NEXT PAGE: Wash your hands

Show Me My Opponent: Auburn (#2)

Here we are: after four-plus months of hot basketball action, we have finally arrived at the very end. Here is how I thought it would go:

And here is how all of those ended up going:

  • Record prediction: most likely 18-13, 10-8 SEC play
  • Team MVP: All-SEC John Fulkerson
  • NCAAT? check back next Sunday
  • Record vs. Florida/Kentucky: 2-1!
  • Pick 2 Click: I think we have to go Fulk here, yeah? Maybe Yves Pons?
  • Most Important Non-SEC Game: It actually ended up being the home Memphis game, but not for the reasons anyone expected. This is now a Quadrant 2 loss because Memphis has politely decided to suck in the 2020 half of 2019-20. The most important win is…probably still Washington? Somehow? Either that or VCU.

So those projections ended up going about 2.5 for 6, I’ll say. We’ll monitor the ones still in play. It’s quite amazing that we’re here even wanting to look at preseason projections, honestly. Seven days ago, when I posted the preview of the Florida game, I included the Press F to Pay Respects meme as the featured image on the article. (I legitimately cannot thank the boomer that asked me “what exactly am I looking at? Do I have to press F to access the article?” You brought so much joy to my Friday.) I, along with most others, figured the season was basically over. This team might beat Florida, it might beat a rapidly declining star in Auburn, but it wasn’t going to win at Rupp.

Until it did.

Now, here we are, entertain us, these Tennessee Volunteers can get themselves back onto the NCAA bubble – not even the NIT one, y’all – with a win over an Auburn team that was 22-2 three weeks ago. What a world.

NEXT PAGE: I can’t link it because my grandparents read these but I very nearly made the @dril “Holy Mackerel” tweet the featured image.

Show Me My Opponent: Kentucky (#2)

Go ahead and prepare yourself for what will be an onslaught of pieces over the next two weeks, assuming Kentucky wins the SEC Tournament.¬†Kentucky has turned the corner. Kentucky is once again a national championship contender. Kentucky has the most John Calipari team to date.¬†In this new article from Kyle Tucker of the Athletic, we explore why this Kentucky team is more prepared for March than you think. Every single one of these pieces will exist, and every single one of them will ignore a key fact: barring a serious overachiever run from Kentucky, this will be Calipari’s second-lowest-ranked KenPom team, aside from the aborted Nerlens Noel year.

But Will, you may clamor,¬†isn’t this because KenPom factors in non-conference results too heavily?¬†I mean, that’s obviously possible. It’s happened with other teams in the past. But let’s check out Bart Torvik’s site, which can separate results by non-conference and conference play in a system very similar to Ken’s.

Kentucky in non-conference play: +15.8 Adj. EM; 36th
Kentucky in SEC play: +18.6 Adj. EM; 23rd

Wow, look at that title contender! If you’re curious, the last five Kentucky teams all ranked higher in SEC play than this one has. It’s obviously pretty nice that Kentucky is 14-2 in SEC play, and that’s worth talking about. However: have you considered the fact that this is the least-good SEC since 2012-13 when it produced three NCAA Tournament teams? The SEC ranks dead last among Big Six conferences in Ken’s ratings, with Kentucky being the only team in the top 30. Heck, Florida – the team Tennessee took a near-20 point lead on – is the second-best team in these ratings. There’s as many teams ranked 140th or worse as there are teams in the top 35.

Here’s what I’m trying to get at: before giving in once again to the Kentucky machine, consider the context. This is a terrible SEC in a down year for college basketball as a whole. Even if you exclude the Evansville loss entirely, Kentucky’s played at the level of the 26th-best team since, per Bart Torvik. (Want to go from post-Ohio State loss onward? 19th.) All of the college basketball tastemakers will be crowning this team as being an “under the radar title contender.” Given a perfect draw, even I might squeeze them in further than I’d expect. All I’m asking you to do is not get swallowed up in the hype yet again, lest your bracket get busted in the Sweet Sixteen.

They’ll still beat Tennessee, I’m afraid.

NEXT PAGE: Kentucky: a basketball team

All of Tennessee’s remaining SEC conference standings scenarios, from best to worst

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Knoxville, Tennessee. It may well be our prettiest day of the year thus far. As you would expect, I have taken full advantage of this day to write a very silly blog about everywhere Tennessee could finish in the SEC standings. As of this writing, per my understanding of the SEC rulebook, Tennessee basketball can finish anywhere from¬†fifth to eleventh¬†by the time the regular season wraps itself up in six days. I’ve broken down every possible scenario as I understand it, from the silliest (a six-way tie for fourth) to the easiest. Here’s all of ’em.

WIN OUT, FINISH 18-13 (10-8)

This one’s obviously a stretch. Tennessee has won once at Rupp Arena in the last 20 years, and it took some heroic efforts to make it happen. Still, this Kentucky team hasn’t cracked KenPom’s Top 25 in a month, and anything technically is possible. There’s about a 12% chance Tennessee wins out, per KenPom.

As it stands, as many as six teams can technically finish 10-8. Mississippi State (10-6) plays South Carolina (9-7) this week, but that’s the only game involving multiple teams of the six pack, which also includes Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Alabama. All of the scenarios are listed below, from most to least stupid.

  • All of Mississippi State, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Alabama finish 10-8.¬†First off, it would be proof that we are indeed living in a simulation. Secondly, here’s how this would shake out. The SEC’s first tiebreaker is opponent records within a group to be tie-broken. Assuming everything we need happens, here’s how that looks:
    • Florida 3-2, Miss State 4-3, South Carolina 4-4, Tennessee 3-3, Texas A&M 3-3, Alabama 2-4.
  • SOOOOOOOOO here’s how that would look. Florida, by virtue of having the highest winning percentage, would be #4. Mississippi State is next at #5. All of South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas A&M have the same winning percentage; Alabama brings up the rear at #9. It then proceeds to how you did against the #1 seed on down. Considering both South Carolina and Tennessee would have wins over Kentucky, this would lock Texas A&M down at #8.¬†Then,¬†considering South Carolina only had to play Kentucky once instead of twice, thereby owning a 1-0 record vs. Tennessee’s 1-1, this would lock in South Carolina as the #6 and Tennessee as the #7. Take a deep breath. This would mean Tennessee plays the #10 seed, which could be any of four different teams, on Thursday at 7 PM ET.

That was pretty stupid. What if we took some ties that are also very stupid and went through them, one-by-one?

  • A five-team tie for fourth involving Mississippi State, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas A&M.¬†Again, so dumb it makes me angry. But in this scenario, the group standings would be Florida 2-2, Miss State 3-2, South Carolina 4-3, Tennessee 2-3, Texas A&M 2-3. Mississippi State would be #4, South Carolina #5, Florida #6, Texas A&M #7, Tennessee #8.
  • A five-team tie for fourth, but with Alabama instead of Texas A&M.¬†Florida 2-2, Miss State 4-2, South Carolina 2-4, Tennessee 3-2, Alabama 2-3. Mississippi State would be #4, Tennessee #5, Florida #6, Alabama #7, South Carolina #8. Tennessee would play the winner of the 12/13 game (Wednesday, 7 PM ET) on Thursday at about 3:30 PM ET.
  • A five-team tie for fifth, with everybody but Mississippi State.¬†I am really regretting doing this. Florida 3-1, South Carolina 4-2, Tennessee 3-2, Texas A&M 2-3, Alabama 1-3. Florida would be #4, South Carolina #5, Tennessee #6, Texas A&M #7, Alabama #8. Tennessee would play the winner of the 11/14 game (Wednesday, 9:30 PM ET) on Thursday at about 9:30 PM ET.
  • A four-team tie for fourth, involving Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and…sure, South Carolina. Florida 1-2, Miss State 3-1, Tennessee 2-2, South Carolina 3-2. Mississippi State #4, South Carolina #5, Tennessee #6, Florida #7. Tennessee would play the winner of the 11/14 game (Wednesday, 9:30 PM ET) on Thursday at about 9:30 PM ET.
  • A four-team tie for fifth, involving Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Alabama. This scenario would require South Carolina to win both and finish fourth, as we’ve already resolved the “what if South Carolina beats Miss State but loses their other game” question above. Florida 1-2, Miss State 3-1, Tennessee 2-1, Alabama 1-3. Mississippi State #5, Tennessee #6, Florida #7, Alabama #8. Tennessee would play the winner of the 11/14 game (Wednesday, 9:30 PM ET) on Thursday at about 9:30 PM ET.
  • A four-team tie for fifth, involving Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Texas A&M.¬†Last one of the big ones we’ll do. Florida 1-2, Miss State 2-1, Tennessee 1-2, Texas A&M 2-1. Texas A&M beat Mississippi State, so they would be the #5 and Mississippi State the #6. Tennessee beat Florida, so they would be the #7 and Florida the #8.¬†This would mean Tennessee plays the #10 seed, which could be any of four different teams, on Thursday at 7 PM ET.

Here’s how a wide variety of three-way ties at 10-8 would resolve themselves.

  • Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi State: Tennessee 1-1, Florida 0-2, Mississippi State 2-0. MSU > Tennessee > Florida.
  • Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina:¬†Tennessee 2-1, Florida 1-1, South Carolina 1-2. Tennessee > Florida > South Carolina.
  • Tennessee, Florida, Alabama: Tennessee 2-0, Florida 1-1, Alabama 0-2. Tennessee > Florida > Alabama.
  • Tennessee, Florida, Texas A&M:¬†Tennessee 1-1, Florida 1-1, Texas A&M 1-1. This then goes to record against 1 seed: Tennessee 1-1, Florida 0-2, Texas A&M 0-1. Tennessee > the other two.
  • Tennessee, Mississippi State, South Carolina:¬†Tennessee 1-2, Miss State 2-1, South Carolina 2-2. MSU > South Carolina > Tennessee.
  • Tennessee, Mississippi State, Alabama:¬†Tennessee 1-1, Miss State 2-1, Alabama 1-2. MSU > Tennessee > Alabama.
  • Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas A&M:¬†Tennessee 0-2, Miss State 1-1, Texas A&M 2-0. A&M > MSU > Tennessee.
  • Tennessee, Alabama, Texas A&M:¬†Tennessee 1-1, Alabama 0-2, Texas A&M 2-0. A&M > Tennessee > Alabama.

If it gets down to two-way ties, those are all fairly simple.

  • Tennessee vs. Florida:¬†Tennessee defeated Florida and owns the tiebreaker.
  • Tennessee vs. South Carolina:¬†Tennessee split the season series with South Carolina, but South Carolina would own a 1-0 record against #1 seed Kentucky to Tennessee’s 1-1. They own the tiebreaker.
  • Tennessee vs. Mississippi State:¬†Tennessee lost to Mississippi State and would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker.
  • Tennessee vs. Alabama:¬†Tennessee defeated Alabama and owns the tiebreaker.
  • Tennessee vs. Texas A&M:¬†Tennessee lost to Texas A&M and would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker.

A no-tie scenario involving six different teams is…not likely. But obviously, you’ll know where Tennessee lies.

GO 1-1, FINISH 17-14 (9-9)

This is currently the most likely of the three outcomes for Tennessee. The Vols will be favored to lose at Kentucky, yet favored to defeat Auburn at home.

Four teams can still finish 9-9 in this scenario. South Carolina would have to lose out to finish 9-9; all of Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas A&M would have to finish 1-1. The odds of all of these things happening hover around 2%, which is…not 0%!

  • In the event of a four-team tie: South Carolina’s 3-2 record against the group would be best, placing them #6. Texas A&M is next at 2-2, placing them #7. Tennessee went 2-3 among these three opponents, making them #8. Alabama went 1-2, which is a lower winning percentage than Tennessee’s 2-3, making them #9. Tennessee would play Alabama in the 8/9 game on Thursday at 1 PM ET.

Alternately, there is the more likely scenario that all three teams go 1-1 while South Carolina goes 1-1 or 2-0 to lock up the #6 spot. This is currently hovering around 17%, which sounds low, but is a fairly high probability for anything involving three teams and six separate outcomes.

  • In the event of a three-team tie: Texas A&M went 2-0 against this group, placing them #7. Tennessee went 1-1, beating Alabama but losing to Texas A&M; this makes them #8 again. Same deal for Alabama, who goes #9. Tennessee would play Alabama in the 8/9 game on Thursday at 1 PM ET.

Now, let’s get into some simpler, yet less likely scenarios. As it stands, Texas A&M will be heavy underdogs to Auburn this week while being slight underdogs to Arkansas. For Alabama, they are large favorites over Vanderbilt and small favorites over Missouri. Tennessee, currently, is a moderate underdog at Kentucky and a small favorite over Alabama. For the purposes of our, uh, “simulation,” we will assume that Tennessee goes 1-1 in this.¬†These are all hypothetical two-way ties.

  • Alabama goes 2-0, Tennessee 1-1, Texas A&M 1-1.¬†Because of Texas A&M’s win over Tennessee, they get the #8 seed as Tennessee gets #9. Same deal as our other sims, but Tennessee would instead play Texas A&M in the 8/9 game.
  • Alabama goes 1-1, Tennessee 1-1, Texas A&M 0-2.¬†Due to Tennessee’s win over Alabama, they would finish #7 in the conference as Alabama finishes #8 and Texas A&M #9. Currently, four different teams can finish #10 – Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, and Ole Miss. Tennessee would draw the…winner? of this quadrant in the 7/10 game on Thursday at 7 PM ET.
  • Texas A&M goes 1-1 or better, Tennessee 1-1, Alabama 0-2.¬†Texas A&M owns the tiebreaker over Tennessee, so they would finish #7. Tennessee gets #8 and draws Alabama in the 8/9 game on Thursday at 1 PM ET.

Now, for all of the no-tie scenarios.

  • Alabama goes 2-0, Tennessee 1-1, Texas A&M 0-2.¬†Tennessee is the #8 seed and plays Texas A&M at 1 PM ET on Thursday.
  • Texas A&M goes 2-0, Tennessee 1-1, Alabama 0-2. Tennessee is the #8 seed and plays Alabama at 1 PM ET on Thursday.
  • Both Alabama AND Texas A&M go 2-0, Tennessee 1-1.¬†Tennessee is the #9 seed. By virtue of Texas A&M’s win over Alabama, Tennessee would play Alabama at 1 PM ET on Thursday.
  • Both Alabama AND Texas A&M go 0-2, Tennessee 1-1.¬†Tennessee is the #7 seed. They would play the 10 seed, likely either Arkansas or Missouri, at 7 PM ET on Thursday.

LOSE OUT, FINISH 16-15 (8-10)

Oh God.

As many as five teams can technically finish 8-10: Alabama, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Missouri. This would determine slots 7-11 in the SEC standings, if it did happen. The odds of all five teams doing this are incredibly low, but here’s how that tie would break out.

  • A five-way tie between these five teams¬†goes like this: Alabama 1-4, Tennessee 3-2, Texas A&M 4-2, Arkansas 5-2, Missouri 2-5. The teams would slot like so: Arkansas #7, A&M #8, Tennessee #9, Missouri #10, Alabama #11. Tennessee would play Texas A&M in the 8/9 game on Thursday at 1 PM ET.

Let’s just get the four-way ties over with.

  • Any four-way tie between Alabama, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Arkansas:¬†Alabama 0-3, Tennessee 2-2, Texas A&M 2-2, Arkansas 4-1. Arkansas > Texas A&M > Tennessee > Alabama.
  • Any four-way tie between Alabama, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Missouri:¬†Admittedly really hard to envision this happening? Alabama 1-3, Tennessee 2-1, Texas A&M 3-1, Missouri 1-4. Texas A&M > Tennessee > Alabama > Missouri.
  • Any four-way tie between Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri:¬†Alabama 1-3, Tennessee 3-1, Arkansas 3-2, Missouri 2-3. Tennessee > Arkansas > Missouri > Alabama.

I think that’s it? Here’s all the possible three-way ties involving Tennessee.

  • We already resolved Tennessee, Texas A&M, Alabama above.¬†Texas A&M > Tennessee > Alabama.
  • Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas:¬†Tennessee 2-1, Alabama 0-2, Arkansas 1-2. Tennessee > Arkansas > Alabama.
  • Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri:¬†Tennessee 2-0, Alabama 1-2, Missouri 1-2. Tennessee > Alabama > Missouri, I think.
  • Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri:¬†Tennessee 2-1, Arkansas 2-2, Missouri 1-2. Tennessee > Arkansas > Missouri.
  • Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arkansas:¬†Tennessee 1-2, Texas A&M 2-1, Arkansas 2-1. Texas A&M/Arkansas > Tennessee.
  • Tennessee, Texas A&M, Missouri:¬†Tennessee 1-1, Texas A&M 3-0, Missouri 0-3. Texas A&M > Tennessee > Missouri.

Two-way ties:

  • Tennessee vs. Alabama:¬†Tennessee defeated Alabama and owns the tiebreaker.
  • Tennessee vs. Texas A&M:¬†Tennessee lost to Texas A&M and would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker.
  • Tennessee vs. Arkansas:¬†Tennessee and Arkansas split the season series. Both would have no wins against Auburn; Arkansas’s theoretical win over LSU would give them the tiebreaker over Tennessee.
  • Tennessee vs. Missouri:¬†Tennessee defeated Missouri and owns the tiebreaker.

If I’ve messed something up, please email statsbywill@gmail.com. Hopefully, it does not get as complicated as some of these scenarios may suggest.

Show Me My Opponent: Florida

From last week:

There are no KenPom Top 25 teams in The Stretch. That’s excellent. What’s not excellent is that Tennessee has only racked up seven conference wins to this point in a season where they really needed eight or more to feel good about this. Two games in particular will sit poorly with the players and staff if they can’t turn it around in these five games: the 63-58 home loss to a terrible Texas A&M squad and last weekend’s two-point road loss to South Carolina. The second of those is far less offensive to me than dropping a home decision to a team that has lost to Harvard, Temple, and Fairfield.

It’s all in the past now. Tennessee can rectify those games by winning one more game than they’re expected to. Both KenPom and Torvik anticipate Tennessee finishing the season 2-3 in these five games. That would add at least one Quadrant 1 win, which brings Tennessee to three on the season…or the same number as 21-6 Saint Mary’s, which is not good when you’ll end up playing six more Q1 opponents than they will. If Tennessee can get to four, that gets them onto the bubble. It’s that simple. Can Tennessee actually Do It? We’ll see.

Reader, they did not Do It. They were about 10 minutes away from Doing It, blew the game, and then got demolished by a team with more to play for on Wednesday. If all you care about is the NCAA Tournament, the season is over and you can begin planning your spring break travels without factoring in a potential Tennessee Thursday/Friday game. (Personally, I suggest that this is a great time to jump on the ETSU bandwagon if you haven’t yet.) This is an NIT team, assuming they can fart out 1-2 more wins this year, and that’s pretty much it.

If Tennessee somehow goes 2-1 over these final three, that would be nice. But no one trusts this team to do so, and no one should, really. Thinking about next year does make it better, though.

NEXT PAGE: A discussion on apple orchards

Show Me My Opponent: Arkansas (#2)

Man, whatever. It happened. Who cares.

This Tennessee team was never going to be as good as the top 20 KenPom ranking it received in preseason. It was never going to be on the level some thought it may be after the blowout win over Washington. There was no point in time in which I thought Tennessee would be any better than, like, a 7-9 seed. A lot of this is based on the roster Rick Barnes constructed, but whatever.

I’m sort of done talking about this season, to be honest. It is what it is, and next season is going to be much, much better. Rick Barnes is not Mike White, and I really have confidence that he is not going to blow a top 10 roster in the same fashion. Watching Florida has been a serious chore this year, though that’s for Saturday’s preview to discuss. Anyway, we are here, here is Arkansas.

For two months, this Arkansas team was the story of the SEC. A 12-1 start with wins over Georgia Tech and Indiana wasn’t perfect, obviously, but this looked like a group destined for an 8/9 seed in March, which would have been serious improvement over the 2018-19 NIT squad. For year one of Eric Musselman’s tenure to end like that…well, everyone would’ve been thrilled. This squad isn’t deep at all, and there’s tons of flaws, but you can’t ever fault their effort.

Unfortunately, #grit doesn’t always win out. In fact, #grit has taken lots of Ls lately. Arkansas is 5-9 since that 12-1 start, with the best win being a road squeaker over Alabama. They’ve fallen out of the NCAA Tournament field entirely, now being listed on Bracket Matrix as one of the First Four Out. (Oh, to be in such a luxurious position! It must feel nice.) Nothing is trending right for Arkansas – welcome to the club! – and all the goodwill of November and December feels lost. Did I mention that Tennessee and Arkansas fans should be best friends at this point?

NEXT PAGE:¬†Musselman’s approval rating is still very high, though

Show Me My Opponent: Auburn (#1)

Since the schedule was first announced, this is the part of the season I think pretty much everyone’s been anxious about:¬†The Stretch. At one point of the offseason, The Stretch looked like it might contain four games against KenPom Top 25 teams, with the¬†easy¬†game being a road trip to Arkansas, a place Tennessee never wins at. I advocated that Tennessee¬†really¬†needed to rack up as many conference wins as possible to feel okay about making the NCAA Tournament prior to this stretch.

Here we are, at the start of The Stretch, and in a way, it’s both better and¬†worse. Better because, for Tennessee, almost every non-Arkansas opponent turned out to be either marginally or seriously worse than expected. Auburn may be 22-4, but they rank #35 in KenPom because they’ve been hilariously lucky in close games. Arkansas is the only surprisingly good team, and yet they’re still the slightest opponent left at #48. Florida…genuinely, if you can help me figure out what they are, I’d appreciate it. Kentucky is the best team in the SEC, which is good enough to be #28 overall.

There are no KenPom Top 25 teams in The Stretch. That’s excellent. What’s not excellent is that Tennessee has only racked up seven conference wins to this point in a season where they really needed eight or more to feel good about this. Two games in particular will sit poorly with the players and staff if they can’t turn it around in these five games: the 63-58 home loss to a terrible Texas A&M squad and last weekend’s two-point road loss to South Carolina. The second of those is far less offensive to me than dropping a home decision to a team that has lost to Harvard, Temple, and Fairfield.

It’s all in the past now. Tennessee can rectify those games by winning one more game than they’re expected to. Both KenPom and Torvik anticipate Tennessee finishing the season 2-3 in these five games. That would add at least one Quadrant 1 win, which brings Tennessee to three on the season…or the same number as 21-6 Saint Mary’s, which is not good when you’ll end up playing six more Q1 opponents than they will. If Tennessee can get to four, that gets them onto the bubble. It’s that simple. Can Tennessee actually Do It? We’ll see.

NEXT PAGE: Taking Tiger mountain (by strategy)

Show Me My Opponent: Vanderbilt (#2)

Look: when a team like Tennessee, whose NCAA Tournament prospects are quite slim, plays a team like Vanderbilt, who is 1-30 over their last 31 games against SEC competition, it is very, very hard to get excited for the game. Couple this with a 6:30 PM Eastern start time and, well, yeah. I’m already bored. Why don’t we talk about the history of Vanderbilt basketball?

For a significant portion of my life, it has felt like Vanderbilt was ahead of Tennessee in the sport of college basketball. This probably was reinforced by one specific run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004, right in the midst of Tennessee’s Buzz Peterson error. The ‘Dores weren’t particularly great that year – they’d get demolished in the Sweet Sixteen by eventual champions Connecticut – but getting there in the first place is a good accomplishment. I think about how exciting it was at the time that a team from Tennessee could make it quite far in the sport’s biggest tournament and I get a little nostalgic.

This was before I learned to despise Vandy, obviously. At the same time as the peak Bruce Pearl years, Kevin Stallings took Vandy to relatively new heights: five NCAA Tournaments in six years, though none of their runs progressed past the Sweet Sixteen. I would estimate that my peak of despising Vanderbilt University wasn’t reached until a couple of years after this peak, but I did relish in picking against Vanderbilt in the 2008, 2010, and 2011 NCAA Tournaments. It was an aggressively mundane, nice experience.

I think there are different experiences you can have with Vanderbilt based on your age. For instance, maybe you have particularly strong feelings about the Eddie Fogler era, which ended after four seasons at Vanderbilt with a 28-6 team that lost in the Sweet Sixteen. Maybe you are a C.M. Newton truther. Perhaps you remember Roy Skinner. Now, none of those memories feel quite so close; all that’s left is the worst program in the SEC playing very bad basketball that’s more reminiscent of a mid-level SoCon squad.

NEXT PAGE: Ranking the hot chicken places I have been to. 1. Prince’s 2. Hattie B’s 3. Bolton’s 4. Pepperfire 5. Firecracker 6. Hot Stuff

Show Me My Opponent: South Carolina (#2)

I guess at this point we’ve got to accept that South Carolina is just going to tank November/December in order to play well against SEC opponents. Tell me I’m wrong.

  • November/December:¬†8-5, losses to Boston U and Stetson; #107 on Torvik
  • January-present: 7-4, two wins over KenPom Top 50 teams; #31 on Torvik

The exact same thing happened last year, where South Carolina looked like the second-worst team in the SEC for two months and then turned it on for conference play only. This leads to some confusion among the generic SEC basketball fan, who sees “South Carolina, 15-9 (7-4)” and thinks “NCAA Tournament, yeah?” No! Nay, I will¬†not let you fall for this again! South Carolina currently has as many losses against Quadrant 4 teams (two) as it does wins against Quadrant 2. Torvik gives them about a 10% chance of eventually making the Field of 68. None of the 79 bracketeers making up the current edition of the Bracket Matrix are brave enough to list South Carolina among their 68 teams.

And yet: while watching South Carolina take advantage of a horrifying offensive start by Georgia to defeat the Bulldogs (can we talk about Tom Crean?), I noticed something. For the first time all season, the SEC Network coverage team has started to list South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament resume in-game.

Good for the Gamecocks; generally, I think every single fan base should get excited about potentially making the Field of 68, even those who have made it for several seasons in a row and have greater expectations. I think their players should be excited, too! I just gotta see more, you know? You don’t erase a home loss to KenPom #285 Stetson with a pair of one-possession wins over Kentucky and Arkansas, especially in this particularly paltry edition of SEC basketball.

NEXT PAGE:¬†Thinking about “Can’t Hardly Wait” by the Replacements, as in I Can’t Hardly Wait for SEC basketball to rid itself of boring squads like the 2019-20 Gamecocks