Vols

Show Me My Basketball Opponent: Vanderbilt (II)

Show Me My Basketball Opponent: Vanderbilt (II)

Bryce Drew, head Vanderbilt basketball coach, is sad and mad

Nope! Not again. We are not going to do this again. I am not going to stand by and watch as Yanni Wetzell’s Pretzels and Aaron Naismith Award turn Tennessee’s defenders into turnstiles a second time. No, I will not watch as Saben Lee dribbles into a 23-footer with Grant Williams a foot from him and nails it like he’s James Harden. Do not ask me to partake in a second viewing of Aaron Nesmith hitting 4 of 7 threes, making 11 of 32 since. Alternately, would you mind refraining from requesting a review of Admiral Schofield’s 0-for-6 three-point outing? Wait I’ve got more-


WHAT THEY BRING

Fart noises on offense

  • Pre-Tennessee (17 games): 1.053 PPP (128th of 353 full season), 33% 3PT
  • Tennessee, regulation only: 1.151 PPP, 60% 3PT
  • Post-Tennessee (7 games): 0.876 PPP (349th full season), 30.2% 3PT

Vanderbilt, collectively, had one good offensive game left in them after being erased from the court in the first five games of SEC play. It still didn’t win them the game. Memorial Magic will not save you, and it never has. Go away.

Alright, fine, a real preview.

No longer all that elite in transition, even worse in half-court; just a very bad offense

(50% rim, 33.3% mid%, 30% 3PT)

Last time Tennessee played this team, Vanderbilt ranked in the 86th-percentile in transition offense and was cooking up something good. You saw plays like this:

And hoped Tennessee’s defense would get back in time to stop them. Since then, however, it’s been just…not great. Over the last seven games, Vanderbilt’s shooting 23 of 56 (41.1%) in transition, with just a 51.6% hit rate at the rim. Obviously, they’d prefer to run a quality half-court offense. When you don’t have such a thing in your program, you get this crap:

And, as noted, it’s not like the half-court offense is doing much good, either. It’s down to the 28th-percentile on Synergy and dropping like a fly because no one’s hitting shots:

Their half-court shot chart is as dispiriting a shot chart as I’ve viewed. The redder your zones are, the better you’re shooting. It looks like they’ve spilled a few different shades of blue all over from the Home Depot and don’t quite know how to clean it up.

As it was a month ago, there’s still shooters to keep an eye on. Matt Ryan (55 of 157, 35%) has a transition three seen above. Here’s Aaron Nesmith (46 of 128, 35.9%):

And Joe (Not Jonathan) Toye (33 of 96, 34.4%):

You’ll note that Saben Lee, who randomly roasted (3 of 5 roasting, I guess) the Vols from three last time out, isn’t featured. Why? Because he’s a career 31.7% three-point shooter and has hit four threes total in his last five games. If he does it again, whatever, I guess it’s a Vanderbilt Problem we have now.

They were solid rim finishers, but even that’s evaporating

45.6% hit rate at the rim in half-court. My God. You wanna see a dead body?

(GOOD LORD, NICK RICHARDS!) Only two rotation members (Clevon Brown and Yanni Wetzell) have above a 60% hit rate at the rim since the Tennessee game. Saben Lee (56.5%) is acquitting himself well enough, but there really can’t be an excuse for Simi Shittu, who is supposedly an NBA dude, going 8 of 18 and getting 22% of his attempts blocked. Against Kentucky, they barfed out a 5 of 12 run at the rim and had five layup/dunk attempts blocked in half-court alone. Sorry for seeming over it, but I’m over it. This team sucks, they’re 0-12 in the SEC, and while KenPom and Torvik seem to agree that there’s only a 25% chance they finish 0-18, I’m willing to take it. Please do not screw this up.

The defense is not good and has cratered, though the offense isn’t helping matters

We’ll do it again.

  • Pre-Tennessee (17 games): 0.972 PPP allowed (61st full season)
  • Tennessee: 1.142 PPP allowed
  • Post-Tennessee (7 games): 1.085 PPP allowed (289th full season)

Even when these numbers are adjusted by Vandy’s tough SEC schedule, it still results in them being about the 203rd-best team in America over the last four weeks, per Bart Torvik. That’s highly dubious analysis of a small sample size, but Vanderbilt is essentially playing Kim Anderson-era Mizzou levels of basketball. That, my friends, ain’t it. Why is this so? Well, opponents are hitting 56% of their layup/dunk attempts:

They’ve gotten pretty unlucky on open three-pointers (18 of 34):

And, perhaps toughest of all, they’ve started to foul a lot.

Essentially, this is how you lose seven in a row and go 0-12 in SEC play. Vanderbilt is very easily the league’s worst team (second-worst Georgia beat them by 19), and nothing over the last month has changed my mind of this. Even the Kim Anderson Mizzou teams beat four KenPom Top 50 SEC teams; Vanderbilt somehow beating Florida or Alabama isn’t that crazy. But I think people want a simple solution here for a game that no one cares about, and they’re going to get one. Tennessee will hammer the rim, try and get as many fouls on Shittu as humanly possible, and try and build a giant first-half lead like the ones they used to in the salad days of January.


HOW TENNESSEE BEATS IT

You get out in transition and you control the pace

I mean yeah. Tennessee’s transition offense is still great, and Vanderbilt’s transition defense has fallen all the way to the 31st-percentile on Synergy. Tennessee should have a giant edge here, and as someone who was pretty disheartened by Tennessee’s inability to get much going in transition against Kentucky, I would be fine if Tennessee did the 2007 Long Beach State thing.

Past that, run a better half-court offense than what we saw Saturday

Tennessee’s half-court offense, when it wasn’t getting crushed on the boards (or by a Kentucky player), largely took turns between two opposite ends of the spectrum on Saturday night:

  • Fart around on the perimeter for 15 seconds until one of Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone, or Lamonte Turner takes a jump shot off the dribble
  • Well hey, I hope Grant Williams gets fouled!

To say the least, this was pretty disheartening. Tennessee took 42 JUMP SHOTS on Saturday, their most since the Gonzaga game and the third-highest amount all year. While it was very nice to see Grant Williams hitting threes again and Jordan Bone was still hitting a few off the dribble, this was largely a disaster of a night on offense. Tennessee had 31 field goal attempts in the first half; 22 were jump shots. The ratio was slightly worse in the second half (20 of 28), but Tennessee was in desperation mode for the final 18 or so minutes of the game, so that was understandable. I knew it was going to be troublesome when Tennessee came out and took their first six shots from mid-range. This is definitely not it, chief.

I have no idea why Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone decided Saturday was the day to take 12 combined mid-range jumpers when Kentucky is the best mid-range defense in the conference. Whatever, that game’s over. Please, please, just take threes.

Or, you know, drive the ball to the basket, which is the easiest shot in the world. Make this game the layup line it should be.

42 damn jump shots on 59 total attempts. I can’t get over it. That in a game where you went 10 of 15 at the rim. No, I do not love to see it.

Did you know that you can guard perimeter shooters? That’s right! No rules against it.

I just post the same GIFs every time now because Tennessee has done the same things defensively for the most part for a month straight. This was bad:

I think we’ve found the perfect image to sum up Tennessee fan frustrations with the perimeter defense this year:

Pardon my French, but what the hell does Admiral Schofield see here? I don’t think Tennessee needs FOUR DEFENDERS at the rim to stop a 6’3″ point guard that rarely shoots the ball. Kyle Alexander lays back to avoid the cut pass to Reid Travis, so I understand (in theory) Grant Williams rotating to the rim to stop Ashton Hagans. (The real issue lies in Lamonte Turner getting smoked by Hagans to begin with.) Schofield has no excuse to leave his shooter. PJ Washington may have discovered how to shoot threes in the last month, but Keldon Johnson has shot threes all year at a 41.4% rate. Tennessee should be thankful Kentucky didn’t need to shoot more threes than they did, because this could’ve easily been a 25+ point loss.

Anyway, Tennessee did guard some threes well. I thought this was good!

No, seriously, that’s good! Alexander stays out on the shooter, there’s not an extreme over-rotation to compensate, and all five players are within three feet of their opponent at the time of the shot. Does Washington get this off with Alexander a little further out than you’d hope? Sure. But is Alexander there to begin with? Yes. Baby steps, or whatever.

Considering Vanderbilt’s sucked ever since they played (and maybe should’ve beaten) Tennessee, this would be a nice game to get back on track. Block Matt Ryan’s threes, just get in someone’s face, I don’t care at this point.

Attack, attack, attack

Please start forcing turnovers.

Kentucky played a near-perfect game on Saturday. Their 59.4% eFG% was the best outing against Tennessee this year (second-best: Vanderbilt), they shot 60% from two, and got more free throws than any other opponent against Tennessee. The issue lies in the fact that they could’ve shot like anus and still won the game. Tennessee gave up a 125.1 Shot Volume (OREB% + (100 – TO%)) to Kentucky, the second-worst (Memphis, 125.4) they’ve given up to an opponent all year.

Tennessee had played with fire against a few opponents on the defensive boards and finally got caught, but I’m more concerned that Tennessee hasn’t topped 20% in Defensive TO% since West Virginia and has done it just three times in SEC play. Considering Tennessee had hit a 20% Defensive TO% rate six times by this point last season in conference play lone, this has gotta get fixed quick. Either Tennessee’s guards need to stop playing conservative defense or Barnes has to experiment with a press. If Tennessee’s not going to rebound the basketball – and, sorry, but the last month of results tells me they’re not going to – they need to make up for it by forcing turnovers. Funny to be whining about a 23-2 team’s defense, but hey, that’s what we do around here.


LINEUP NOTES

Vanderbilt:

  • Now on their ninth starting lineup of the season! Lee/Nesmith/Brown/Ryan/Shittu.
  • Maxwell Evans, who started a game just two weeks ago, has played 13 minutes in the last three games. Good garbage time candidate, maybe.
  • Eight-man rotation is most likely, with Toye being the sixth man and Moyer/Wetzell being somewhere between 10-17 minute guys.
  • I made tacos last night with turkey instead of ground beef and I didn’t notice a difference, beyond not feeling like someone poured hot grease into my stomach the morning after. This is where you use that awful adulting hashtag, correct?

Tennessee:

  • No changes expected; Bone/Turner/Schofield/Williams/Alexander.
  • I don’t know if you label this as a worrisome trend or note, but as recently as South Carolina, nine different players played 10+ minutes. For most of non-conference play, we all likely assumed that with Turner’s return, Tennessee would be shooting for an eight-man rotation, nine on good nights. Based on the last five games, Tennessee is consistently running out a seven-man rotation, with the winner of the Pons/Jalen Johnson sweepstakes occasionally scratching out six minutes. Barnes has to be disappointed with Derrick Walker’s regression, but not being able to get more than 10 minutes a game out of Pons/Johnson is trouble.
  • Fulkerson is settling into a consistent 9-12 minute per game role, and I thought he played well against Kentucky, as did Pons in limited action.
  • Kyle Alexander’s last three games: 19 minutes, 20 minutes, 18 minutes. Stop fouling.
  • In all seriousness, Tennessee badly needs to use these games to get players like Johnson/Walker considerable minutes (at least 8 per game). Barnes appears comfortable with a seven-man rotation at best right now, and it’s a three-man rotation in the backcourt. I mean…you’re one injury away from Brad Woodson having to play five minutes a game.

KEY MATCHUPS

Admiral Schofield vs. Aaron Nesmith. Nesmith smoked Schofield in game one, which was embarrassing. I’ve been afraid to say this because he is really good at Twitter, but I’m not sure that Schofield has even been Tennessee’s third-best player in SEC play (Williams/Bowden/Bone). Schofield really, really needs a high-end performance against a bad team to make me feel better.

Jordan Bone vs. Saben Lee. Bone held Lee to a 2-11 performance inside the arc last time, but Bone was nearly invisible for most of the final 35 minutes of the game. Bone’s stats from Saturday (19 points, 6 assists) would be a fine replica for this game.

Will Warren vs. Vanderbilt. I hate this school, and I’ve hated this school my entire life. No fan base is ruder in person, and no school in the SEC has the potential to produce more obnoxious, gross individuals. (I’ll hear out Ole Miss.) Burn them to the ground.


PREDICTION

Tennessee 91, Vanderbilt 65.

Give us your Take...
Vols

Will Warren is a contributor to FOX Sports Knoxville. He loves Popeyes, computers, the Nashville Predators, and melatonin.

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