Better Know An Opponent: Tennessee

The Gamecocks return home to Colonial Life Arena to try to stop a three-game losing streak against the Tennessee Volunteers.  Tennessee is in its second year under coach Cuonzo Martin, who succeeded at Missouri State (it’s hard to get people who don’t follow lower-tier conferences to appreciate just how hard that was to do, but Missouri State hadn’t won a conference championship in two decades until Martin did it before leaving for Tennessee).  Before that, they hadn’t won much since a late 1980s run under the wonderfully named Charlie Spoonhour.

Of course, you may remember Missouri State from our victory over them the night before the Clemson game, which was un-televised and the night before the Clemson game, so no, you probably don’t remember Missouri State.  But we played them this year.  And won!

Tennessee has spent this season failing chance after chance to become an NCAA tournament team, but as the season has progressed, it’s become apparent that they’re not blowing it so much as they’re simply not a good enough team to deserve entry. Losses to Oklahoma State, Memphis, Ole Miss (twice), Kentucky, and Arkansas are harmful, and then there are the two memorable back-to-back debacles against Georgetown (a 37-36 loss where the Vols scored 0.67 pts./poss.) and Virginia (46-38, again scoring 0.67 pts./poss.).  They have a great home win against Wichita State, a program famous around these parts because of their success under a certain Sandlapper, but we’ll not dredge that back up.

Anyway, two struggling SEC teams trying to avoid the double-play in come tournament time.  Catch the excitement!

Team

Numbers from KenPom.com, and accurate as of the morning of February 8.

Four Factors
USC O
UT D
UT O
USC D
NCAA
eFG
48.0
(183)
46.1
(83)
47.3
(215)
49.6
(222)
48.5
TO%
23.4
(307)
17.1
(315)
20.5
(181)
20.9
(144)
20.4
Oreb%
39.7
(9)
27.2
(30)
34.2
(96)
32.0
(173)
32.0
FTR
37.5
(122)
36.6
(195)
43.0
(23)
42.9
(305)
35.7
Adj. Tempo
66.6
(163)
63.7
(282)
66.3
Shooting
USC O
UT D
UT O
USC D
NCAA
FT%
69.5
(161)
67.0
(233)
69.0
2P%
47.4
(174)
45.3
(98)
49.0
(105)
49.6
249)
47.4
3P%
32.8
(210)
28.9
(318)
33.7
3PA%
31.8
(208)
27.4
(30)
30.3
(242)
31.1
(110)
32.9

As always, if any numbers don’t make sense to you, check our our Explanations page.  If they still don’t make sense, send us an e-mail.

The Volunteers will be one of the more interesting match-ups of the season, as they don’t fall quite into the “great at one thing, terrible at another” dichotomy so many of the weak SEC teams seem to follow this year.

On offense, Tennessee goes based primarily on its interior game.  They eschew 3PAs (and don’t make the few they do take), choosing to try to score by getting good looks inside, rebounding their misses, and hopefully getting fouled somewhere along the way.  Two Martin’s in the SEC, and they both run a similar offense.  This may get confusing.

The Volunteers do run a slight variation – they trade slightly weaker rebounding for better work at getting to the line, and they don’t cash in from the charity stripe as well as Carolina does – but it’s an offense that should be familiar to hte Gamecock faithful.

One area that Carolina has had a lot of success in defensively in SEC play is forcing turnovers, and that’s something they will hopefully be able to continue to exploit against the Volunteers, who have struggled to retain possession this season.  Carolina will need to find success either at getting turnovers or sharply improving their interior defense, because Tennessee seems primed to spend a lot of the afternoon on the free throw line and scoring buckets on the inside.  The Gamecocks need to figure out a few ways to slow them down along the way.

On the other end, Carolina may once again struggle to put the basketball in the hoop, something that has become more and more familiar as SEC play continues.  Tennessee plays stingy defense on 2PAs, and the Gamecocks simply continue to struggle to convert from the interior.  The Volunteers also shut teams down from taking 3PAs, so Frank Martin and staff need to figure out a way to attack the interior in some form or fashion if we’re going to have half a chance.

Tennessee may also make it difficult on the Gamecocks when it comes to using their favorite offensive weapon – the offensive rebound.  The Volunteers are even stingier keeping teams off the offensive glass than they are at preventing made two-point baskets.

The only real up-shot for Carolina is they should get plenty of chances to run their offense, as the Volunteers have struggled all season at forcing turnovers; meanwhile, we’ve seen our guys steadily improve at protecting the basketball (while the season-long numbers are atrocious, our SEC percentage is 21.1 percent, good for eight in SEC play and would rate around 220th in NCAA over the whole season – not great, but far better than the low 300s we’re currently sitting in).  Perhaps our guys can take some of Tennessee’s legs away by making them play defense most of the afternoon.

Individual

VOLUNTEERS
%Min
%Poss
eFG%
OR%
DR%
ARate
TORate
FTM-FTA
2PM-2PA
3PM-3PA
Jordan McRae
77.7
25.8
48
1.8
10.2
14.6
19.8
75-98
69-134
27-94
Jarnell Stokes
68.7
25.3
56
14.4
21.9
11
16.8
67-118
93-166
0-0
Trae Golden
60.8
25.5
38.7
1.9
9.6
33
16.9
67-92
45-114
11-45
Josh Richardson
75.2
17.4
53.4
5.6
12.8
7.4
25.8
31-50
61-107
7-27
Kenny Hall
54
18.2
54.4
8.9
17.3
4.4
26.6
33-50
49-86
0-4
Armani Moore
26.9
17.2
38.3
4.7
22.3
13.8
30.8
5-9
15-40
2-7
Yemi Makanjuola
22.6
16.9
42.1
13.1
23.4
3.4
21.5
11-17
16-38
0-0
D’Montre Edwards
12.4
18.9
36.8
3.4
21.4
0
12.8
4-7
5-21
5-13
Skylar McBee
58.2
12.4
45
1
3.6
6.3
9.4
13-15
2-12
32-99
Derek Reese
20.5
15.6
52.2
4.1
13.6
9.2
11.7
4-6
9-17
10-29
Quinton Chievous
12.9
13.5
31.2
2.2
26
1.9
21.5
2-2
6-14
1-10
GAMECOCKS
%Min
%Poss
eFG%
OR%
DR%
ARate
TORate
FTM-FTA
2PM-2PA
3PM-3PA
Michael Carrera
40
26.6
50
15.1
24.4
7.9
19.5
56-74
55-117
5-8
Laimonas Chatkevicius
17.9
24.1
46.7
11.8
17.4
12.3
29.4
13-21
20-42
1-4
Brenton Williams
53.2
21.3
53.6
1.2
8.4
12.6
17
61-73
36-76
31-78
Brian Richardson
47.3
20.6
52
5
10.6
13.9
15.8
21-28
30-70
33-83
Bruce Ellington
44.8
23.7
41.1
2.6
8.2
13.7
29.5
27-43
35-85
12-44
Lakeem Jackson
75.8
16.9
59.6
9.2
16.1
15.6
24.5
16-48
84-142
2-4
Eric Smith
67.8
16.9
38.2
1.4
5.4
22.6
29.1
26-39
32-83
12-48
RJ Slawson
40.8
17.8
44.9
13.5
14.3
8.3
22.1
32-45
31-67
3-12
Damien Leonard
30.7
19
38
7.7
12.3
7.3
24
11-15
12-35
13-48
Mindaugas Kacinas
54.4
15.9
56.1
10.1
12.9
7.6
27.8
30-44
46-74
3-16

The Volunteers rely heavily on three players for their offensive production – guard Trae Golden, wingman Jordan McRae, and forward Jarnell Stokes.  Each of these guys does a great job of getting his shot and getting to the line, and so they will be the primary focus when Tennessee has the ball.

However, the Volunteers are expected to be without Golden,  a dual-threat involved in a ton of the Tennesee offense – 58 percent of possessions he plays end with either him shooting a shot the Volunteers don’t rebound, turning the ball over, or assisting on a made basket.

Taking his place has been Armani Moore, a 6’5″ freshman who oddly wasn’t playing many minutes until SEC play picked up.  He got off to a great start from an efficiency perspective, although he wasn’t using many possessions.  As his usage has ticked up, his efficiency has declined precipitously, primarily his turnover rate, which has creeped up over 30 percent.  With Bruce Ellington likely matching up on him, this is a match-up the Gamecocks may be able to exploit.

McRae has a reasonably compete game, as he moves between the foul line and both sides of the 3-point line rather seamlessly, taking between 94-134 shots from each of those places.  He doesn’t score as efficiently as you’d want though from a guy who takes that many shots, and the hope on our end will be that Lakeem Jackson is able to keep that shooting percentage low.

The big issue for us is most likely to come from Jarnell Stokes, a 6’8″ sophomore who does much of the Volunteers work on the inside – he buries shots, grabs rebounds, and on the other end, does a great job of blocking shots (he’s in the top 500 nationally in all of the statistics I just mentioned).  He also gets to the foul line at a ridiculous amount, posting a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 71.1, which is 24th in the nation.  Given our trouble with interior players this year, this match-up could well determine the winner.

The other forward will be Kenny Hall, a 6’9″ senior.  Hall and Stokes are a lot alike in that they pound the ball in the post and focus their games on grabbing rebounds, though Stokes is far better at finding his shot more often.  That said, Hall does a good job of both scoring inside and getting to the line, so the Gamecocks front line will not get a break just because they may avoid Stokes from time to time.  One area they will be able to exploit Hall that they can’t Stokes, however, is forcing turnovers, something a guy like Michael Carrera may be able to do from time to time if faced with this match up.

Rounding out the line-up for Tennessee is 6’6″ wingman Josh Richardson, who sticks with the Volunteers principles of not being an inside-outside guy, but rather an inside-foul line player.  Richardson will likely be matched up against Lakeem Jackson, who can hopefully contain him and potentially force some turnovers, as Richardson is prone to coughing the basketball up.

Skylar McBee is the primary guy off the bench for Tennessee, and he’s where they get pretty much all of their three-point shooting.  He’s a classic spot-up shooter who won’t dribble much or assist on shots – hell, he won’t even take interior shots, with only twelve 2PAs on the season –  but, if he gets open from the outside, he’ll make the Gamecocks pay.

These previews have come to focus more and more on the other team as at this point in the season, we know our guys pretty well.  It is worth everyone taking a minute to note just how dominant Michael Carrera is on the glass on both ends of the court – by now playing 40 percent of our minutes, he’s eligible to be nationally ranked in the KenPom ratings, and he’s 27th in offensive boards, 44th in defensive boards.  That’s amazing for a freshman who’s been asked to do so much for us this season.  He’s going to be great to have around for three more years.

Brenton Williams, who started the season so strong, has started to slide a bit in recent games, with a downtick in both minutes and efficiency.  However, this may be a game where he can help out – while he’s a great outside shooter, he also does a good job of getting and making 2PAs, along with getting fouled on those shots to get shots from the interior.  That’ll be important if we’re going to score enough to beat the Vols.

Lastly, it’ll be interesting to see if we can get Lakeem Jackson a few more shots than he normally takes.  As you can see from his eFG, he nails the one he takes, but some of that can be chalked up to selectiveness.  If Lakeem can exploit a match-up, it’d give the Gamecocks a much better chance of escaping with a victory.

Predictions

KenPom: L 66-64 (41%)

TeamRankings: 50.2% chance of victory

This game is another game full of match-up issues for Carolina, particularly on the offensive end.  More and more, the question becomes how the hell are we supposed to score, even though in many instances, I’m also not sure how we’re planning on stopping the opposition.  While we get a lot of the peripheral things right, we still struggle at the basketballing basics – scoring, and preventing the other team from scoring. It’s an issue.

I wasn’t going to predict a Gamecock victory based on these factors, but with Golden out, I think Ellington can do just enough defensively to dominate that match-up to grab us a victory.  As Martin says, if you don’t have a point guard, you don’t have a team, and while I don’t think Armani Moore is so bad that he doesn’t give Tennessee a shot, I look for that match-up to do just enough for us to overcome our deficiencies in the match-up against Stokes in the low post.

While this game isn’t a a certain win or loss, it is certainly one of their better opportunities remaining on the schedule, and could help them move up the quite crowded bottom of the SEC standings, where at least one of the teams currently at 2-7 or 3-6 is going to get to avoid playing on Wednesday in the SEC tournament.  With the 3-6 Volunteers in town, it’s as good a chance as any to make sure that one team is us.

 

 

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About marvinnedick

Blogging from the mid-Atlantic on Gamecock sports, as well as general musings on sports theory otherwise.
This entry was posted in 2012-13 Basketball, Better Know An Opponent, tennessee and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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