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 CHANNEL: ESPN2.
  • 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 CHANNEL: ESPN2.
  • 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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NEXT PAGE: THE CUONZONE

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!

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: USC Upstate

The University of South Carolina Upstate is a moderately-sized school located in Spartanburg, South Carolina. They’ve been around for a little over five decades. A long, long time ago, in 1982, they won the NAIA Championship. Here’s five facts about this program worth knowing:

  1. This is their fourteenth season of Division I basketball.
  2. They’ve finished over .500 in three of those seasons, with the most successful season being a 2011-2012 run where they got to 21 wins and 13-5 in the Atlantic Sun before a surprise loss in the conference tournament.
  3. They won 24 games in 2014-15.
  4. They’ve won 26 games combined over the last three-plus seasons after Eddie Payne retired post-2016-17 season.
  5. I’m trying to be positive here, so…they only lost to #113 KenPom UNC Greensboro by eight?

Please fast-forward to next Wednesday.

  • THE OPPONENT: USC Upstate (0-7).
  • THE TIME: 5:00 PM ET. I don’t know why either.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network! Normal ol’ SEC Network!
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -33, over/under 143.5.

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NEXT PAGE: They actually used to be called USC Spartanburg! Fun fact.

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Saint Joseph’s

Another day, another opponent that wasn’t originally on the 2020-21 basketball schedule. Such are the joys of attempting to complete a season in the midst of a 100-year pandemic, and thankfully, we’re about to see game #5 when it had almost began to look like we wouldn’t get to game #1. So, in the spirit of the last couple of these posts, I’ve already written a lot about the opponent’s team below. Let’s talk about the opponent’s program, in five bullet points:

  • The Saint Joseph’s Hawks, for much of your and my lifetime, were coached by Phil Martelli, who was fired in 2019 and later became an assistant for Michigan.
  • Under Martelli, the Hawks reached highs they hadn’t seen in 20+ years, including the ultimate coup: a perfect regular season and an Elite Eight run in 2003-04.
  • They never quite reached that high, but the Hawks made the NCAA Tournament seven times under Martelli and produced a slew of great memories.
  • Now they are coached by Billy Lange, a former 76ers assistant who designed the offense Philly ran under Brett Brown.
  • Lange is…6-30 so far.

To alleviate pressure from various media members’ mentions, here is a list of important game information.

  • THE OPPONENT: Saint Joseph’s of Pennsylvania (0-4).
  • THE TIME: 6:00 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -22.

If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain section, click below:

NEXT PAGE: Saints and/or Josephs

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Tennessee Tech

There’s only so much I can say about a team Tennessee has played 25 times and beaten 24, so I’ll leave it relatively short. If you are somehow unfamiliar with them, the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles play basketball in Cookeville, TN. They haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1963, but they’ve won their conference’s regular season title as recently as 2005. When they do make it back to the NCAA Tournament, it’ll be a great day for basketball in this state.

For…reasons, they hired John Pelphrey, who is 9-29 in his first 38 games as head coach. Cookeville is home to a Popeyes just off of exit 287, which is actually the Popeyes where I first experienced the chicken sandwich. Thank you to my friend Nathan for capturing the moment; the photo is available upon request.

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

  • THE OPPONENT: Tennessee Tech (0-7).
  • THE TIME: 7:00 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network Plus, online-only.
  • IF YOU HAVE A CABLE SUBSCRIPTION: You can either go to espn.com/watch and enter in your cable info that way by following the instructions, or if you have a Roku/Amazon Fire thing, go to the ESPN app and do the same thing.
  • IF YOU DON’T: Uh…call someone you know that does? Or listen to Bob and Bert?
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -28.5.

If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain section, click below:

NEXT PAGE: Unlike one of my favorite Al Green songs, nothing about this offense is Simply Beautiful

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Appalachian State

Appalachian State, as you may have heard, is a school in Boone, North Carolina. They are best known for dropping the match into the batch of lighter fluid that was Lloyd Carr-era Michigan football and causing my dad to have chest pains for the better part of the last two decades. Other than that…

Just kiddin’. The Mountaineers have made the NCAA Tournament once in the 64/68-team era (2000, lost to Ohio State 87-61). They probably won’t do it this year, but their current coach, Dustin Kerns, is the first head coach to make them respectable and solid in over a decade. Pretty good, if you ask me. Finally, on December 15, Tennessee gets to play an opponent that isn’t in the KenPom top 75.

Game information

This is a short section that will hopefully alleviate pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: Appalachian State (4-1).
  • THE TIME: 7:00 PM Eastern.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -18.5.

If you’d like to jump ahead to a different part of the preview, use the provided menu:

NEXT PAGE: BasketBoone