How “Show Me My Opponent” gets made

Like any normal-brained person, for most of the last 15 years, I’ve had a real obsession with the television show How It’s Made. On the off-chance you’ve never seen it, it’s a nominally Canadian TV show that got lots of run on the Discovery Channel in the late 2000s/early 2010s and now resides on the Science Channel. I don’t know that I could properly explain why I love this show so deeply, beyond stating that something about the start-to-finish process of watching a product become A Product has always been and will always be oddly compelling.

The idea behind this post is a somewhat self-indulgent version of How It’s Made. A few different people have asked in the past how I do what I do with regards to previewing 30+ Tennessee basketball games every season. This last season completed my third straight year previewing every Tennessee basketball game, meaning I’ve written about the last 96 Volunteer basketball fixtures in great detail. Every preview in the 2020-21 season was at least 2,000+ words and all but two were 2,500+, meaning that at least twice a week every week, I’m writing anywhere from 5,000-7,000 words about the basketball program at the university I attended.

Doing this repeatedly for free is, of course, a form of insanity. It has also afforded me opportunities I never would’ve received otherwise: seeing and hearing my stats referenced on television, forming new friendships in sports media, growing my “platform” and “brand”, etc. If nothing else, I think this could be mildly useful for younger (than me) writers, like those in college or high school, who would like to write on things they’re passionate about one day.

By popular request, here is a rough timeline of how the Show Me My Opponent series on this website gets made. To give the most accurate representation of how this works, I’ve picked a game at random from the middle of the SEC conference season – February 10, 2021, a Wednesday, when Tennessee played Georgia.

NEXT PAGE: How the, uh, sausage? gets made

Show Me My SEC Tournament Opponent, 2020-21: Alabama

Well it’s these guys again. I think you may have heard about them over the past two months, perhaps?

It’s worth breaking down just how much has changed since the first and only time Tennessee faced this Alabama team. Heading into January 2, Tennessee sat as the #6 team in KenPom, undefeated and coming off of an absolute destruction of what we thought would be the second-best team in the SEC, Missouri. Alabama was #45, had lost at home to Western Kentucky two weeks prior, and came very close to dropping a mid-December home game to Furman. The Tide had potential, but they didn’t seem to be quite in the same stratosphere as Tennessee at the time.

On March 13, 2021, it’s like everything has flipped. Alabama obviously won that first game, then simply went on to smoke the rest of the SEC (minus Missouri, strangely, and Arkansas) and finished 16-2 in conference play. They’re now #8 on KenPom. Tennessee began to wobble with the Alabama game, fully fell off the table at times, and squeaked out a 10-7 SEC record in one of the most frustrating seasons in program history.

We thought we know a lot in January. We didn’t. The question remaining is this: how much have both teams learned about themselves and each other since then?

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: 1 seed Alabama (22-6, 16-2). They defeated 9 seed Mississippi State 85-48 yesterday.
  • THE TIME: 1 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Karl Ravech (PBP) and, yes, Dick Vitale (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Alabama -3.5.

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NEXT PAGE: When I have more time, please remind me to write something about how smaller conferences in college basketball mostly do a terrible job of protecting their best teams in the conference tournament. Been on my mind this week!

Show Me My SEC Tournament Opponent, 2020-21: Florida

Hey, look who it is! Didn’t Tennessee just get done playing this team five days ago? Why, yes, they did. What you’ll see below is just about exactly the last preview, though with some small alterations and an attempt to show just how badly Florida was harmed down the stretch by having Tre Mann (their leading scorer in SEC play) unavailable for the game due to a migraine. Florida beat Vanderbilt 69-63 yesterday, if you didn’t see it, with Mann going for 22 points. He is important. So is this game for Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament seeding hopes.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: 5-seed Florida (14-8, 9-7).
  • THE TIME: 30 minutes after Alabama/Mississippi State; most likely around 2:30 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Karl Ravech (PBP) and Jimmy Dykes (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -4.5????

Click below to achieve your dreams of drifting ahead to your preferred section.

NEXT PAGE: Did you know Tennessee hasn’t beaten Florida in the SEC Tournament since 1984? They’ve also only played Florida thrice in the SECT since then, but, yeah

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

It’s Sunday, it’s early, and this is the final game of the SEC’s regular season. I’m tired. Super sim to the start of this game, please.

In all seriousness, you don’t really need millions of words about this game. With a win, Tennessee can somewhat salvage this turd of an SEC season by getting the final double-bye in next week’s conference tournament. With a loss, I think I’m moving out to a farm and not thinking about the Internet for a while.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Florida (13-7, 9-6).
  • THE TIME: 12 PM ET. For some reason.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPNU. First ESPNU appearance this season!
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Tom Hart (PBP) and Jimmy Dykes (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -4.5.

Click ahead to get to your preferred section if you’d like.

NEXT PAGE: Please win

Six additional questions answered about Tennessee and mid-range jumpers

If you’re reading this site for the first time, I wrote about 7,000 words on Tennessee’s infatuation with mid-range jumpers last Tuesday and was quite pleased with how it came out. Please read that first before reading this.

I got a lot of great, informational feedback on my mid-range article last Tuesday, and I’d like to thank everyone who responded or shared the piece in whatever way they saw fit. I’ve found myself inwardly cringing every time I see any mid-range jumpshot as of late, which is not a good way to live. In the right hands, the mid-range jumper is a tool that can free up space all over the court for an offense in need of it. If you have multiple excellent mid-range shooters, you’re probably going to have a pretty solid offense on the whole.

The issue, as Tennessee fans have seen this season, is that Tennessee doesn’t really have any. This is not 2018-19, when Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone were knocking shots down. It’s been a parade of bad shot selection, frustrating misses, and what looks like a team-wide case of being locked in a mental pretzel. As a fan, it isn’t fun; as a writer trying to make the team sound interesting, it is very annoying.

Anyway, I got several good follow-up questions, and I thought it might be best to devote an article to answering them. No GIFs in this piece, just words; do prepare yourselves for that.

If you’d like to skip ahead to a question, click below. They’re across the next two pages.

  1. Can you clarify some of the data sources?
  2. Are there any other teams that take more or as many mid-range jumpers as Tennessee?
  3. Has *anyone* been great offensively over the last few years taking this many mid-range jumpers?
  4. Has Tennessee been better/worse efficiency-wise in games where they’ve taken a lot/very few mid-range jumpers?
  5. Can we see shooting splits over first 11 games versus the last 12?
  6. Is it just Tennessee’s stars that do this, or is it the entire team?

NEXT PAGE: Questions 1-3

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Auburn

Last year in February, before the world ended and we all realized we live in something entirely different now, I wrote a spirit-of-the-moment article about how 22-2 Auburn was an incredibly lucky team heading for a downturn. It was written after thinking early that morning about how much people don’t seem to think about luck in close games. In a season where Auburn was 10-0 at the time in games decided by six points or less, it seemed worth exploring.

Since I published that article, Auburn is 4-7 in games decided by six or fewer and, unfortunately for them, 14-17 overall. I think this is at least partially my fault and definitely no one else’s for cheating or anything.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Auburn (11-13, 5-10).
  • THE TIME: 12 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Beth Mowins (PBP) and Dalen Cuff (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Not up yet. KenPom has Tennessee -4, Torvik Tennessee -3.3. Obviously, this is riding on Sharife Cooper’s status.

Click below to get ahead to a certain section:

NEXT PAGE: Please win

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

9 PM Eastern tip…playing the second-worst (per KenPom) team in the SEC…limited fan attendance…neither team is fully healthy…yeah, hard to really get up for this one if I’m being honest.

Vanderbilt has lost 38 of their last 43 SEC games, which is one of the worst stretches of losing in conference history if not the absolute worst. They haven’t beaten a team that ranks higher than 70th in KenPom (Mississippi State in a very random 72-51 victory) and, as such, are 0-7 against the KenPom Top 50 teams they’ve faced. I know this hasn’t been a Tennessee team that’s lived up to expectations by any means, but they are absolutely above even having this game be close.

But…it’s Vanderbilt. While Tennessee has defeated the Commodores seven times in a row and have had the far, far superior roster for four straight seasons, four of the seven wins have been by eight points or fewer. In fact, Tennessee hasn’t pulled off multiple double-digit wins against Vanderbilt in the same season since 2008-09. Again, that’s despite winning seven in a row, nine of ten, and 15 of 20 against Peabody University.

Tennessee should be 15+ points better than Vanderbilt in this game. For some reason – call it history! – I am sure that this game will somehow be within single-digits at night’s end.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt (6-12, 2-10).
  • THE TIME: 9 PM Eastern.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Mike Morgan (PBP) and Debbie Antonelli (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -8.

If you’d like to click ahead to a certain section, that’s what the below menu is for.

NEXT PAGE: Remember when Grant Williams dropped 43 points on Vandy in an overtime win? 🙂

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

Some fun stats for your Friday/Saturday enjoyment:

  • As of Saturday, it will have been 378 days since the Kentucky Wildcats last defeated the Tennessee Volunteers.
  • There were 11 total cases of COVID-19 in the United States when Kentucky last defeated Tennessee.
  • Absolutely nothing about the world has changed since that game happened. Nothin’!

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Kentucky (7-13, 6-7).
  • THE TIME: 1 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: CBS. Yes, seriously.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Not sure as of this time, but last week it was Ian Eagle (PBP) and Jim Spanarkel (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Not up yet; both KenPom and Torvik have Tennessee -7.

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NEXT PAGE: Loretta Lynn’s three best albums, in order: Coal Miner’s Daughter (1970); Writes ‘Em and Sings ‘Em (1970); I Remember Patsy (1977). Not the Jack White collaboration, which is okay.

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: South Carolina

Firstly, a very happy Ash Wednesday and Lent season to all who celebrate. I can’t wait for the first fish fry.

Secondly, there is a game tonight that was supposed to be played last night. I’m going ahead and letting you all know that, as of now, I have no idea if anyone will be out on Tennessee’s end. I have an idea via some local media hints, but the actual on-the-record announcement will not come until about an hour before tonight’s fixture. Be patient if I refer to a player that isn’t actually playing tonight; I have as much of a clue as you do as to their availability.

Anyway, it really is amazing how much one Final Four run can cover up. Frank Martin has still only made one NCAA Tournament in eight seasons at South Carolina, with this number very likely to grow to one in nine. To Martin’s credit, that’s the same number of NCAAT bids as the Gamecocks had from 1999 to 2012 prior to him becoming head coach, but I think pretty much everyone believed this would be a more successful pairing. Through 8.5 seasons, Martin has fewer 20+ win seasons (two) than Dave Odom (three), hasn’t had an offense rank better than 91st, and, again, has just the one NCAA Tournament run.

But that one run resulted in a Final Four the school will remember forever. It’s amazing how one small sample size can cover up a lot of forgettable moments in the much larger sample size. Fandom is a strange thing.

Game Information:

  • THE OPPONENT: South Carolina (5-9, 3-7).
  • THE TIME: 9 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Tom Hart (PBP) and JON SUNDVOLD!!! (color). The most relaxing voice in the game.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -11.5.

To move ahead to a different section, click below.

NEXT PAGE: Cities in South Carolina, ranked: 1. Charleston 2. Greenville 3. (void)

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: LSU

Here’s what I wrote last year when Tennessee played LSU in January, two months before the world ended:

“Largely, I think Will Wade’s a good coach. Good guy, well…that’s a debate for another day. Undeniably, though, he’s given LSU a lot of firsts, ones that they probably didn’t expect just two-plus years in. Now, he gets to live out the ultimate challenge of a coach: what happens after all those firsts?”

Obviously, we’ll never know how the 2019-20 edition of the team would’ve performed in the NCAA Tournament, but the year after the best year since Big Baby, the Tigers looked like they’d just follow it right up the next season. 21 games in, LSU was 17-4 and a perfect 8-0. They’d won 24 of their last 26 SEC regular season games. Even though an alarming amount of these were close, and even though LSU suffered three losses to teams ranked outside of the KenPom Top 50, it really did look like Will Wade was going to run it back.

Then, out of nowhere, they lost to a Vanderbilt team that hadn’t won an SEC game in two years. Then, out of something moderately predictable, given that they never got higher than #28 on KenPom, the wheels fell off and the luck ran out. LSU finished the 2019-20 season by losing six of their final ten games, giving up 90+ points three different times and ranking #179 overall defensively by season’s end. It was pretty rough, and it made sense that if an NCAA tournament had existed, LSU probably wouldn’t have escaped the first weekend as an 8 or 9 seed.

One year later, LSU sits at 7-4 in SEC play (same as Tennessee) and 12-6 overall. To Wade’s credit, the Tigers only have one loss to a sub-50 team: Kentucky. Still, the same problems that led to the demise of the 2019-20 team are pretty prominent with this group. LSU ranks 146th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They own one win against a team in the KenPom top 40. This is despite having a roster where the entire starting lineup are former top 100 recruits. So, yeah, I don’t quite know what’s happening after all those firsts.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: LSU (12-6, 7-4).
  • THE TIME: 2 PM ET. Please pray for the writer of this article, who is doing a 7-mile run in the rain at 12.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: I don’t know PBP as of the time of writing, but I do know Jimmy Dykes is the color commentator.
  • THE SPREAD: Vegas not available yet. Tennessee is -1 on KenPom and -2.2 on Torvik.

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