Show Me My Basketball Opponent: Kentucky (I)


Get quality looks out of the post, whether that’s Williams or a passout

Finally…FINALLY…we have arrived. It took you 2,400+ words to get here. And now you get to hear me say the same things I’ve said for weeks: Tennessee wins big games through the post. This is because they have, at worst, one of the five best college basketball players in America on their team.

No player on Tennessee is better at scoring, and after the South Carolina game on Wednesday, I’m starting to wonder if any non-Bone player is better at passing. Watch this post passout to Lamonte Turner in last week’s Florida game.

Thoughts, in order:

  1. How does Williams see that hole to pass the ball through?
  2. Williams uses his eyes better than any other player in college basketball. If you slow it down, you’ll see him initially look towards Turner for a brief second, then look back towards the basket. This draws Nembhard over to Bone, leaving Turner wide open. That is brilliant.
  3. How many post players just go up for the shot anyway?

These are the things you can do when you have Grant Williams on your team.

No cheap turnovers in transition; push it after rebounds

Considering Kentucky’s proficiency in forcing transition turnovers, this is a massive deal. Tennessee simply cannot afford to make stupid passing mistakes like this:

But they also can’t afford to slow it down to a crawl and miss plays like this:

Tennessee can thread the needle appropriately here. I’m interested to see what happens when/if Kentucky tries to speed up their own offense. Will Tennessee do the same, or will Barnes purposely use the clock to control the pace and make Kentucky a little antsy defensively?

Cuts and rolls at the rim, screen actions and pops on the perimeter

Kentucky defends neither cut nor roll actions all that efficiently, and screen actions on the perimeter have proven to be the most effective play type from deep. By now, you know that Tennessee loves Kyle Alexander’s presence around the basket:

You know that when he does roll, Grant Williams is very efficient at getting the ball in the basket:

And you know that Lamonte Turner has turned into a sniper off of screens.

But what you might not know is that Tennessee hasn’t run much of the Schofield pop play since its famous usage in the waning seconds against Gonzaga.

If Tennessee utilizes this a few times, it could cause Kentucky to overpursue on Schofield, allowing him to drive to the basket and, hopefully, not pull up for a 14-footer that rims out. Tennessee will need to draw every foul they possibly can in this game, as Kentucky would really prefer to not go more than seven-deep at worst.

Please do not lose this game because of threes

Please. This is simple. Just park someone in the corner at this point. Here’s a bad one:

And here’s a great one.

I promise you that defending three-pointers is not as difficult as Tennessee likes to make it look.

No ball-watching on post passouts

Tennessee’s actually been guilty of this more frequently than I remember. I’d forgotten how Louisville got them a few times on plays like this one to Jordan Nwora:

I’d like to see Tennessee push out to the perimeter on these and trust Williams/Alexander/Schofield/bench guys to do the good work. If doubling Washington becomes necessary, the game is already lost. The Vols are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, which can lead to dumb 19-footers more often than not:

Considering the team they’re playing loves to take non-rim two-pointers, let ’em. An 18-footer is worth one fewer point than a 22-footer.

Get back in transition, slow the game down for them

Kentucky’s way better in transition than in half-court. This is also simple. Please don’t lose the game because you didn’t get back after a rebound.

Mostly what I’m looking for here is, again, to make this a half-court game. Tennessee can do so by rushing back after Kentucky gets the ball. They can do this in man or zone; Kentucky is essentially equally proficient against both. Whatever the case may be, I would love to see Tennessee force a bunch of mid-range twos in this one. If you can get them off the dribble, that’s even better:

Defend the boards

It’s not a 1-to-1 correlation – Kentucky has a marginally better offensive efficiency the greater their OREB% is – but it certainly helps. Tennessee does not want to join the list of schools that have allowed a 40% or higher OREB% to Kentucky this year: Southern Illinois, North Dakota, VMI, Tennessee State, Monmouth, UNC Greensboro, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. Only Mississippi State is any good (though UNC Greensboro strangely appears to be a bubble team); the rest of those teams are bad or worse.

Tennessee has allowed a 40% OREB% to just one opponent, Arkansas. However, they’ve played one game all season against a top 30 OREB% team (West Virginia). However however, 12 of their 23 D-1 games have taken place against teams ranking 89th or higher in OREB%. Tennessee needs to keep the boards clean here.

Play quality two-point defense without fouling

Well yeah.

Take risks on the perimeter, turn them into turnovers

Note: this does NOT mean slap Hagans/Herro tons and pick up 8 fouls in 7 minutes on the perimeter. This means waiting for the right time and striking. Tennessee’s played a little more conservatively on the perimeter this year because of depth issues, but they can’t do that in this game. You really, really need to get turnovers where you can in this one, particularly from Hagans.

Tennessee has a very real ability to force turnovers, as evidenced against Arkansas (23.6% TO%) and Missouri 1 (22%). They forced turnovers from Kansas on 19.4% of possessions, 18.6% from Louisville. 18% or higher in this one should be considered solid.


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