Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Kansas

If you have followed college basketball even loosely over the last 30 years, it is pretty much impossible to ever feel bad for the Kansas Jayhawks unless you’re a fan of the Kansas Jayhawks. They won 14 regular season Big 12 titles in a row. They won a national championship in 2008. They’ve made five Final Fours in my lifetime to Tennessee’s zero. In 10 of the last 18 NCAA Tournaments, they’ve at least gone to the Elite Eight. How could anyone feel bad for Kansas?

And yet: here I am, typing that I did feel really bad for the 2019-20 version of Kansas. The Jayhawks finished the regular season at #1 on KenPom by over three full points, the widest gap between #1 and #2 since Kentucky had a 4.4-point edge on the field heading into the 2015 NCAA Tournament. (At the time, it really did make sense.) If the NCAA Tournament had gone on, they would’ve been the favorite to win it all and bring home a second championship for Bill Self. In terms of pure Efficiency Margin, it was the third-best team Bill Self has ever coached (2007-08 and 2009-10 a bit ahead) and one of the best teams in school history.

And then…the NCAA Tournament never happened. Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike left for professional pastures; Isaiah Moss graduated; Bill Self suddenly had to replace two of the 10 or so most impactful players in all of college basketball with nothing to show for it. Objectively, that’s brutal. So, yeah, I do hurt for them, in the way you would hurt for the Green Bay Packers or something. This year’s team isn’t anywhere near what last season’s was, but if nothing else, they will get to see this team play on a Turner Sports affiliate in March.

The following game information section is included to relieve pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: #15 Kansas (11-5, 4-4).
  • THE TIME: 6 PM ET.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Bob Wischusen (PBP) and Dick Vitale (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Is not up as of publishing time, but is Tennessee -2 on KenPom and Tennessee -4.3 on Bart Torvik.

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NEXT PAGE: Musicians/artists from Kansas, ranked: 1. Charlie Parker (born on the Kansas side of KC) 2. Gene Clark (went to HS in Kansas) 3. Janelle Monae (actually from Kansas!)

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Mississippi State

Back during the 2014 and/or 2015 coaching searches, I remember there being a fairly strong desire from online Tennessee fans for Ben Howland. After all, Howland had just been let go by UCLA after the 2013 season, and it isn’t every day there’s a coach on the market with three consecutive Final Four appearances, especially when they’re as recent as 2006-2008. (At the time, this was recent.) Perhaps what we didn’t know – or chose to not see – was that after the final of those Final Four appearances, the UCLA program cratered. They went 117th-52nd-58th-46th on KenPom over his final four seasons, didn’t escape the second round, and were instantly better under new HC Steve Alford.

Howland got scooped up by Mississippi State, who needed literally anything they could get after the Rick Ray error. Again, at the time, it felt like the Bulldogs were seen as making the better hire between them and Tennessee heading into the 2015-16 season. Over 5.5 seasons, Mississippi State has finished inside the KenPom top 40 once, has made one NCAA Tournament, and bombed out to Liberty in the first round. Rick Barnes, whether you like him or not, is headed towards posting his third top-20 finish at Tennessee and has the third-best defense in the country. Funny how these things work out.

Game Information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Mississippi State (9-7, 4-4).
  • THE TIME: 7 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS (by request): Tom Hart PBP, Jimmy Dykes color.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -9.5.

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NEXT PAGE: Jimmy, if you’re reading this, the world needs to know who drew your Conor McGregor tattoos

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

You remember this team. It’s the one Tennessee played and beat by 20 just over three weeks ago. That was pretty easy! I have a feeling this will be a little less easy. Such performances probably represent the absolute peak of what Tennessee can do on a basketball court, but undeniably, a win is needed after Tennessee’s Tuesday implosion. In some ways, it’s like the reverse of the first game: you’ve got to bring the fans back up to earth instead of having to keep them grounded.

The below game information section is included to relieve pressure from the mentions of such esteemed writers as Grant Ramey and…probably just Grant Ramey.

  • THE OPPONENT: #19 Missouri (9-2, 3-2).
  • THE TIME: 8:30 PM ET???? For some reason?
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -7.5.

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NEXT PAGE: Hey Jon Sundvold I hope you’re reading this. Can you call more games involving Tennessee? I did not realize that you sounded exactly like David Letterman and I would like to hear more of it

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Florida (#1)

To be frank, it’s a little difficult to write these previews, knowing that in a normal world, Florida likely would’ve had Keyontae Johnson available. Before we even really get started here, a reminder for Vol fans to be praying for his recovery and for the best possible outcome.

Alright, back to the rivalry. Tennessee has defeated Florida on four straight occasions. Mike White, who was about $250K in assistant money away from being Tennessee’s head coach, is 1-5 against Rick Barnes. And I have to say, this is one of my favorite sites on the Internet at the moment.

Here are the things to know about these Florida Gators:

  • Based on the roster they had heading into the season, Bart Torvik’s site had them ranked 10th. I know, I know: sounds ridiculous. But Bart’s site also nailed how good Texas would be when a lot of others doubted.
  • That said, the Gators are now ranked 37th and freefalling on the same site.
  • The Gators are as close to a schizophrenic team as Tennessee can draw this year. They’ve got five 90+ Game Scores on Torvik’s site (that’s very good)…and five performances of 72 or worse (that’s not good).
  • The only player who was on Tennessee’s roster the last time Tennessee lost to Florida (2017) is John Fulkerson.
  • Mike White is 1-5 against Rick Barnes and 56-34 against all other SEC competition.

Here is a game information section to relieve pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: Florida (6-4, 3-3).
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN. Dick Vitale is on the call, just FYI.
  • THE TIME: 7 PM ET.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -7.

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NEXT PAGE: If you ask politely I’ll give you my thoughts on Tennessee football. Just kiddin’

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Vanderbilt (#1)

Could this be the first of multiple games? Could it be the only time Tennessee actually plays Vanderbilt? Could they play Vanderbilt four times while not playing South Carolina once? Pretty much anything is on the table in the silliest season in college basketball history.

As a heads-up, this is the exact preview I wrote for Tuesday’s fixture, which was cancelled about eight hours before tip-off, much to the chagrin of the person writing this post. All I’ve changed is the final score prediction, given that the game is now in Knoxville and not Nashville. I am begging both of these schools to simply ensure the game gets completed, lest I lose my mind.

A quick note here as well: Vanderbilt hasn’t really announced who in the program tested positive or if anyone has to sit out for contact tracing purposes, so if a player is mentioned in this post and they don’t play, that’s probably why.

Game information section:

  • THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-3).
  • THE TIME: 6 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -18.

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NEXT PAGE: Please play the game

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Texas A&M

Texas A&M is a basketball team that plays their games in College Station, TX. They are coached by Buzz Williams. Through 1.3 seasons at Texas A&M, his two teams have ranked 131st and 98th in KenPom. Please let this be an easy one.

Five things worth knowing:

  • Texas A&M is 6-0 at home…
  • …and 0-3 on the road.
  • The Aggies are 1-3 against KenPom Top 100 teams, with the one win being a two-point win over Auburn. The three losses were to #81 TCU (73-55), #33 LSU (77-54), and #62 South Carolina (78-54).
  • Emanuel Miller is the only Texas A&M player in their top six minute-getters to have an Offensive Rating above 100 (essentially, CBB’s Mendoza Line). His is 119.9.
  • The Aggies are, amazingly, one of three teams in America to have a sub-300 offensive Turnover Percentage and a top-25 defensive Turnover Percentage.

Here’s a game information section:

  • THE OPPONENT: Texas A&M (6-3, 1-2).
  • THE TIME: 2 PM ET.
  • THE LOCATION: College Station, TX.
  • THE SPREAD: Has not yet been posted at the time of writing.

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NEXT PAGE: You have to admit that College Station is a good name for a town with a college stationed there

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Arkansas

Hogs hogs hogs hogs hogs. Hogs!

As disappointing as Tennessee’s Saturday was, you could make the case Arkansas had an equally disappointing outing. The Razorbacks entered their second SEC game 9-0, having beaten Auburn by double-digits on the road earlier in the week, and drew a Missouri team Tennessee had just demolished days prior. It was all setting up for Arkansas to make their case as, at worst, the second-best team in the SEC.

Then the game started, Arkansas could barely buy a bucket despite being dominant in terms of shot volume, Missouri hit just enough shots to stay in front the whole way, and a golden opportunity for Eric Musselman’s team was blown, 81-68. Now, the SEC race is as muddled as it can possibly be (as long as you still assume Tennessee is the favorite, of course). As many as five teams have a legitimate shot to be the 2 seed, which means a team like Arkansas will probably finish anywhere from 2nd to 6th in the conference and it’ll be entirely dependent on how many close games they can steal. I’m excited to see how that goes; hopefully Tennessee stays above the fray.

Five things to know about the Arkansas Razorbacks:

  • They have played just one KenPom Top 50 team; that was Missouri, who they lost to.
  • Like last year, Arkansas ran roughshod over a very weak non-conference schedule, with the toughest opponent either being #102 North Texas (69-54 win) or #113 Abilene Christian (85-72 win). There’s nothing wrong with demolishing bad teams, of course, and that’s generally a good sign. But considering Arkansas did the same thing last year only to crap out in SEC play, it’s worth holding out.
  • Arkansas only has one player in their rotation who was on the team last year: Desi Sills.
  • Four freshmen play for Arkansas, as do five transfers. Literally the rotation is 90% new, which both speaks volumes about the fact Musselman has them in the KenPom Top 40 and also makes me wonder if that’s a sustainable system at all. (He did something very similar with his final two teams at Nevada.)
  • Arkansas and Tennessee are two of just three teams in America to rank in the top 25 in both offensive TO% and OREB%. (Iowa is the third.)

Below is a game information section, which should relieve some pressure from various beat writers’ mentions:

  • THE OPPONENT: Arkansas (9-1, 1-1).
  • THE TIME: 7 PM ET.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -7.

Click below to skip ahead to a certain section:

NEXT PAGE: (withholding comment about famous Arkansas alumni)

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Alabama

Look: this university gets literally anything and everything it wants in the football world. Isn’t it nice that they aren’t also elite at basketball?

Five things you need to know:

  • Alabama’s 0-2 against Tier 1 opponents, but 3-1 against Tier 2 opposition.
  • When Alabama tops 1 PPP offensively, they’re 6-0. When they don’t? 0-3.
  • Nate Oats is entering his second year as head coach at Alabama after a nice four-year run as Buffalo’s head coach, which followed an 11-year run as Romulus High School (Michigan)’s head coach.
  • Oats owns three of Buffalo’s four NCAAT appearances, along with their only two NCAAT wins.
  • They are Alabama, and Tennessee is Tennessee.

The below game information section is used to alleviate pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: Alabama (6-3).
  • THE TIME: 6 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN2! Finally!
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -9.5.

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NEXT PAGE: Does Alabama basketball have extremely online fans in the same way Alabama football does?

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Missouri (#1)

Yeah, this is a big one. The Missouri Tigers are 6-0, #12 in the nation, and own wins over KenPom #17 Oregon (83-75) and #6 Illinois (81-78). Tennessee has yet to play an opponent who’s looked this good yet, though Colorado has come pretty close. For all intents and purposes, this is the premier game of SEC Basketball this winter, as Tennessee and Missouri look to be the SEC’s two best teams. Obviously, the conference has reacted appropriately by putting this game at 9 PM on a Wednesday night on SEC Network, opposite the Cotton Bowl where the #7 and #6 college football teams play each other.

Anyway, all of the things you already know – Cuonzo Martin used to coach Tennessee, they made the Sweet Sixteen once, things didn’t end so well – are mostly covered on the following pages. There’s a lot of words to come, but here’s the basics you need to know:

  • Missouri’s had four fantastic performances (Oral Roberts, Oregon, Wichita State, Illinois) and two…fine-ish ones (Liberty, Bradley).
  • This is Tennessee’s closest projected game of the SEC season, per Bart Torvik.
  • Tennessee has topped 1.25 PPP offensively in four straight games; Missouri hasn’t allowed an opponent to top 1.056.
  • Tennessee has held all six opponents below a point per possession on defense; Missouri has gotten to at least 1.066 PPP in five of six games.
  • This is, uh, important.

The below section is game information to relieve pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: #12 Missouri (6-0).
  • THE TIME: 9:00 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -3 or -3.5, depending on where you look.

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Quarterly Review #1: Tennessee’s answering these preseason questions very well

In the season preview, which is somehow over a month old, I proposed this statement on the basketball team at Tennessee:

“We can be confident of some things heading into 2020-21. Tennessee brings back a lot of talent from last year’s roster and a lot of young players with high levels of potential. They’ll get a full season to grow together, and even in a strange pandemic season, hopes are high. Preseason statistics models are a little lower on Tennessee, simply because their 2019-20 was kind of disappointing, finishing 68th on KenPom and 61st on Torvik, both the lowest of any school ranked in either site’s 2020-21 Top 20. National experts seem to generally have the Vols somewhere between 8th and 14th, which feels fair. Either way, fans are within their right to expect great things from this group and great things from the $5 million man heading the operation. They’ll have a lot of questions to resolve from here to March, but the nice thing about having as much talent as Tennessee has is an extended timeline to figure out the answers to those questions.”

In a new installment here on my website, I want to look into some of the questions I proposed for the 2020-21 Tennessee basketball team every time there’s a break in the schedule of sorts. Essentially, I want to know the following:

  • How has Tennessee answered the questions I proposed?
  • How impactful have their answers been?
  • Has this elevated their ceiling, or has it lowered somewhat?

All of which I’ll attempt to answer for them, in this post and in three more to come over the next three-ish months.

If you’d like to click ahead, choose below:

Here’s the schedule going forward, barring a schedule change: Quarterly Review #2 will be out on January 28 before the Kansas game; Quarterly Review #3 on March 5 after the regular season concludes; Quarterly Review #4 whenever the season firmly ends.

NEXT PAGE: The offense looks pretty good, IMO!