Tennessee at Missouri preview: Vols (usually) bring the lunch pails

USA TODAY Sports

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Tennessee is one of the most confusing, volatile, high-variance teams in college basketball this year. The Vols' offensive repertoire is limited but (usually) effective, and the defense seems to feed off of the offense. They have a couple of the most impressive results of the season and a couple of awful ones. Keep them off the glass to some degree, and they're incredibly beatable. Allow yourself to get pushed around, and you might lose by 20.

Tennessee Volunteers (15-9, 6-5)


Vols
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
62.7
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.16 1.01
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.30 1.16
2-PT FG% 49% 44%
3-PT FG% 35% 35%
FT% 71% 69%
True Shooting % 54.7% 50.7%




Vols Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.8 10.3
Steals/Gm 5.1 5.2
Turnovers/Gm 10.8 10.9
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.65 1.42




Vols Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 10.9 11.3
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 13.0 10.3
Difference +2.1 -1.0

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UT Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

UT Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 15 127 UT big
Effective FG% 193 61 MU
Turnover % 97 314 UT big
Off. Reb. % 3 111 UT big
FTA/FGA 108 137 UT
MU Offense vs UT Defense Ranks

MU Offense UT Defense Advantage
Efficiency 19 52 MU
Effective FG% 62 85 MU
Turnover % 180 268 MU
Off. Reb. % 44 83 MU
FTA/FGA 22 47 MU

Where the Vols are weakest

For starters, they don't really have much of a bench. Cuonzo Martin has five players who go at least 24.5 minutes per game and only one other rotation member averaging even 12 minutes. If one of these guys has an off night or gets into foul trouble, Tennessee's experience and ceiling drop in a hurry.

On the court, the Vols are a bit sketchy on defense at times. Like Missouri, they don't even pretend to force turnovers (268th in TO%, 270th in Steal%), and their 3-point defense is a bit confusing; they don't allow you to take many 3s (29th in 3PA/FGA), but you make the ones you take (225th in 3PT% Allowed).

On offense, the Vols' biggest problem is simply that they don't shoot very well. Jordan McRae is good, obviously, and Josh Richardson basically only shoots when he has a high-percentage look, but UT ranks just 201st in 2PT%, 156th in 3PT%, and 151st in FT%. And they don't pass guys open either, ranking just 237th in Assists Per FG Made. (The missed shots lead to UT's biggest strength, however.)

Where they are best

UT is the second-best offensive rebounding team Missouri has faced this year, behind only Kentucky. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are absolute beasts on the offensive glass, and they give this team an almost Kelvin-Sampson-at-OU vibe, where the offense doesn't really start until the ball hits the rim. Missouri did a decent job against Kentucky (in terms of defensive rebounding, at least), and the Tigers will have to do so again. If you keep them off the glass (and not simply because they're making their first shots), you handcuff them immensely.

Or to put it another way, Tennessee only ranks in the top 75 in one of the four factors offensively, yet has the No. 15 overall offense in Pomeroy's efficiency ratings. Part of that has to do with strength of schedule, and part has to do with the fact that they're really, really good at that one thing.

Defensively, there's no particular strength, but the Vols rotate well (22nd in Assists Per FG Made), and they manage to prevent you from getting good looks without fouling a ton (47th in FTA/FGA). But as we see by the raw per-possession stats above, this team's offense is quite a bit more successful than its defense.

UT's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 9 Virginia (87-52)
    vs. No. 35 Xavier (64-49)
    No. 53 Arkansas (81-74)
    at No. 69 LSU (68-50)
    No. 78 Ole Miss (86-70)
    at No. 103 Alabama (76-59)
    vs. No. 108 Wake Forest (82-63)
    No. 125 Auburn (78-67)
    No. 128 South Carolina (72-53)
    No. 164 SC Upstate (74-65)
    No. 165 Morehead State (82-67)
    No. 275 Tennessee Tech (84-63)
    No. 307 Tennessee State (88-67)
    No. 350 The Citadel (86-60)
    Tusculum (98-51)
  • Losses
    at No. 4 Florida (41-67)
    No. 4 Florida (58-67)
    at No. 11 Wichita State (61-70)
    at No. 14 Kentucky (66-74)
    at No. 35 Xavier (63-67)
    No. 79 N.C. State (58-65)
    vs. No. 88 UTEP (70-78)
    at No. 100 Vanderbilt (60-64)
    No. 154 Texas A&M (56-57)

Average Score (vs. Top 50): Opponent 64, Tennessee 63 (-1)
Average Score (vs. 51-100): Tennessee 71, Opponent 67 (+4)
Average Score (vs. 101-200): Tennessee 74, Opponent 62 (+12)
Average Score (vs. 201+): Tennessee 86, Opponent 63 (+23)

Virginia is 11-1 in the ACC, a half-game out of first place in the conference. The Cavs have won at Pitt and Florida State and took down UNC with ease at home, and their only in-conference loss was a tight defeat at Duke. They lost to Tennessee by 35 points in Knoxville.

LSU has beaten Kentucky and Missouri at home and sports the same 6-5 conference record as the Vols. The Bayou Bengals lost at home to Tennessee by 18.

Texas A&M lost by 20 points at home to North Texas and has lost six of eight in conference play. The Aggies beat Tennessee just days after the Vols crushed LSU.

UTEP lost by 36 points to Iowa and fell to New Orleans, Charlotte, and FAU, all at home. The Miners beat Tennessee by eight on a neutral court.

Don't think too hard about this. You're not going to make too much sense of it no matter how hard you try. When the Vols are good, they're tremendous. When they're bad, they can lose to anybody.

Tennessee Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Jordan McRae (6'6, 185, Sr.) 16.9 0.53 32.0 MPG, 19.2 PPG (47% 2PT, 40% 3PT, 79% FT), 3.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.0 BPG, 2.1 TOPG
Jarnell Stokes (6'8, 260, Jr.) 16.5 0.53 30.8 MPG, 14.2 PPG (49% 2PT, 69% FT), 10.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 2.2 TOPG
Jeronne Maymon (6'8, 260, Sr.) 12.1 0.43 27.8 MPG, 10.6 PPG (52% 2PT, 69% FT), 8.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.9 TOPG, 2.6 PFPG
Josh Richardson (6'6, 196, Jr.) 8.9 0.31 28.6 MPG, 9.2 PPG (53% 2PT, 43% 3PT, 79% FT), 3.0 RPG, 1.2 APG
Antonio Barton (6'2, 180, Sr.) 5.7 0.23 24.5 MPG, 7.3 PPG (47% 2PT, 33% 3PT, 61% FT), 2.3 RPG, 1.9 APG
Darius Thompson (6'5, 181, Fr.) 5.0 0.28 17.7 MPG, 2.9 PPG (59% 2PT, 19% 3PT, 73% FT), 2.8 APG, 2.0 RPG
Armani Moore (6'5, 215, So.) 3.7 0.35 10.5 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG
Derek Reese (6'8, 220, So.) 2.9 0.30 9.6 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG
D'Montre Edwards (6'6, 205, Sr.) 2.6 0.40 6.5 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG
A.J. Davis (6'9, 212, Fr.) 1.1 0.09 11.7 MPG, 1.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: McRae (30%), Stokes (25%), Maymon (21%)
  • Highest Floor%: Thompson (44%), Moore (44%), Richardson (43%)
  • Highest %Pass: Thompson (79%), Barton (56%), Moore (49%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Richardson (44%), Davis (43%), McRae (37%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Stokes (20%), Maymon (20%), Moore (16%)
  • Highest %T/O: Maymon (10%), Davis (10%), Stokes (8%)
  • Highest OR%: Stokes (17%), Maymon (16%), Moore (9%)
  • Highest DR%: Stokes (23%), Maymon (20%), Moore (13%)

  • Tennessee's bench has gotten smaller thanks to an injury to Robert Hubbs III, a five-star freshman wing who has struggled all year, injury or no. Hubbs was supposed to push this team over the top, but that hasn't really happened. At times, Tennessee doesn't look like it needs any help. Others, it looks like it's one player away.

  • You probably didn't need me to tell you that Jarnell Stokes is a beast. You probably remembered last year's game, when he ate Alex Oriakhi's lunch, grabbed six offensive rebounds, and posted a 13 & 13. You ready for that, Ryan Rosburg? Stokes is far from polished, as evidenced by his 49% shooting (mostly very close to the rim) and 2+ turnovers per game (he had five against Mizzou last year), but UT's offensive identity is centered around McRae and offensive rebounding, and he's the chief rebounder. A new name for Mizzou, however, is Maymon, who started his career at Marquette, earned second-team all-conference honors in 2012, and missed last season with a knee injury. You ready for him, Johnathan Williams III?

Keys to the Game

  1. The glass. For all the reasons I stated above. Mizzou's 3-1 in conference play when it wins the rebounding battle and 2-5 when it doesn't, and if Tennessee isn't rebounding, the Vols aren't scoring much. It's unlikely that Mizzou wins this battle, but the Tigers will still have a chance if they don't get absolutely trounced here.

  2. The 3-ball. As always. Arkansas game aside, both Mizzou and its opponents have bombed away recently, and for all the reasons we've discussed before -- randomness, etc. -- the 3-pointer has the tendency to decide Mizzou's fate to a large degree. Hopefully Jabari Brown's 1-for-6 performance against Arkansas was a momentary regression.

  3. McRae vs. Clarkson. For pure entertainment value. These are two big guards who spend a lot of time a) with the ball in their hands, b) drawing contact, and c) putting the ball in the basket.

Prediction

I hate this matchup for Missouri's defense. The Tigers absolutely must show up on the defensive glass, and they only sometimes do. And Tennessee has two bulls on the interior that will put basically every Mizzou big into foul trouble. Maybe that's not a big deal, but if Mizzou gets pushed around inside, that means the Tigers will have to rely on Brown, Clarkson, and Earnest Ross to do all of the work. They've shown for most of the season that they will do a lot of the work, but this is an absolutely enormous game, and playing 3-on-5 is probably not going to get it done.

Pomeroy projects a 71-70 Mizzou win, but I honestly don't feel quite that good about it. Tennessee obviously has flaws; the Vols lay eggs from time to time (especially on the road), and they really are pretty mediocre defensively. But if Good Tennessee shows up, I'm not sure Mizzou has enough defense to slow the Vols down. This is either a 76-73 UT win or a 77-63 Mizzou win, I think. Right now, I'm leaning former. Prove me wrong, guys. You've done that a lot (for better and for worse) this year.

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