Tonight the Pack head to Knoxville, TN to square off against the Volunteers of Tennessee (7pm ESPNU). Head Coach Cuonzo Martin is in his third season at Tennessee and is projected to take his team to the NCAA Tournament this season. If you’ll recall Martin was one of the possible Tier 2 (or 3) candidates Pack fans were looking at to replace Lowe. Last season the Volunteers ended with a 20-13 record losing in the first round (at home) of the NIT to Mercer. This season Tennessee is a very experienced team sporting a starting five filled with all upperclassmen, 3 seniors and 2 juniors, and molded into Martin’s slow but efficient on both ends of the court style of play. You’re not going to see a Wisconsin or UVA team because they have more talent but Martin doesn’t push tempo. What are they good at? Well rebounding for one thing, both Offense and Defense they are one of the best in the country. They also don’t turn the ball over on Offense and get to the Free Throw line pretty good though they are modest at shooting it. Of course we can’t forget to point out they all important FT defense, which they are excelling at and are pretty good at blocking shots for a team with a front court with a couple of 6-8 PF’s.
So what has changed between last year’s NIT team to a potential NCAAT team? They have improved in not turning the ball over on offense, are getting more offensive rebounds, shooting the 3-ball a little better, forcing more turnovers, and shutting down their opposition at the charity stripe. Not many areas have gotten worse, they aren’t as effective on defense due to allowing the opposition to shoot the 2FG and 3FG better and while still good at defensive rebounding they are giving up a few more offensive rebounds than last year.
- #2 Antonio Barton (6-2, 178, SR) Guard – Barton is a graduate transfer from Memphis who was brought in to replace Trae Golden (who transferred to GT) at PG. Barton is splitting the PG duties with freshman back up Darius Thompson. Barton is more of a scoring threat then Thompson and is effective in shooting the ball while not turning it over. He’s only using about 15% of the team’s possessions with an ORating of 122.2. One area he’s hurting in is his struggles at the FT line where he’s only 9-19 this season.
- #52 Jordan McRae (6-6, 185, SR) Guard – McRae is the Vols best player but not their only one. While McRae is taking 31% of the team’s shots his effectiveness hasn’t been hurt by the increase of 4% from last year, it’s actually improved by almost 20 points, to an amazing ORating of 122.5. There’s not much this guy can’t do, he gets to the FT line a lot and shoots 76% when he’s there. He’s hitting .556 (2FG) and .327 (3FG). This guy is going to be a handful for the Pack.
- #1 Josh Richardson (6-6, 190, JR) Guard – Richardson is takes only 15% of the team’s shots while holding at 122.3 ORating. He’s shooting .429 from both 2FG and 3FG and .750 FT. This is a guy who could easily have a big game if given the chance but with McRae and Stokes gobbling up the possessions there are only so many chances to go around. If there is a career game tonight be on the lookout for this guy.
- #34 Jeronne Maymon (6-8, 260, SR) Forward – Maymon missed last season due to a knee injury but it hasn’t slowed him down. Maymon is part of UT’s 2-headed rebounding monster, 15.8% OR and 20.7% DR. He also gets to the FT line at 70% while shooting 64%, while also shooting 52.5% from 2FG.
- #5 Jarnell Stokes (6-8, 260, JR) Forward – Stokes is the other beast down low for UT. He’s taking 25% of the team’s shots while occupying 28.5% of their possessions. He’s maintaining an ORating of 112.4 while pulling in 15.0% OR and 24.3% DR, getting to the FT line 67% at 66% FT and 50% frm 2FG. This isn’t a fluke either, he was doing the exact same last year.
#3 Robert Hubbs, #15 Darius Thompson, #21 A.J. Davis, #4 Armani Moore, and #10 Rawane Ndiaye.
Thompson is the back-up PG who is doing quite well at it as a freshman and is getting 46% of the minutes. He’s very effective, 125.3 ORating, due to a 22.1% Assist Rate. He’s not much of a shooter so expect to see him pass first, looking for the open man. Hubbs is another freshman coming off the bench but Hubbs needs to take less shots, 25.6% of the team’s shots are coming from him but is only hitting 11-33 (2FG) and 7-25 (3FG). Little used Rawane “Pops” Ndiaye (6-10, 275, JR) hails from Raleigh, NC before coming to UT through Indian Hills (Iowa) CC.
So what are some comparisons between UT and State and what can we expect to see? Well State is going to be more effective on both offense and defense when it comes to shooting the ball. Both teams are good at not turning the ball over and average at creating them so don’t expect a lot of turnovers. UT will be better at grabbing rebounds so expect to see more put backs from them while limiting the Pack’s second chances. Neither team is great at shooting FT’s but their defense from the line puts the Pack to shame. UT will slow down the tempo and I don’t see this Pack team imposing their will on the Vols to push it up. Both teams play mostly man defense but as we all know, the best defense against the Pack is a full court press then fall back into a zone.
FUN FACTS: (Cuonzo Martin Era)
- In Tennessee’s three loses this season, the Vols are shooting 54.9% (45-82) from the foul line. In UT’s six wins, the Vols are shooting 73.7% (126-171) at the line.
- UT is 18-0 when it shoots at least 50% from the field.
- UT is 22-3 when they score at least 80 points.
- UT is 22-2 when they lead by at least 7 points at halftime.
- UT is 33-7 in games it led at halftime.
Just so you know, our second favorite color man, Dan Dakich, will be at the game tonight. So get the drinking game rules out and prepare to damage your livers.
For those that aren’t familiar with what Roland is, this is the plus/minus system where you take the Margin while a player is on the court and subtract the margin while the player is off the court and your result is the Roland number. For example, say while Buckets is on the court the team scores 30 and the opposing team scores 20. Then when he’s off the court the team scores 20 and the opposing team scores 30. You’d take (30-20) – (20-30), that would be 10 – (-10) = +20. What that tells you is the team does 20 points better when Buckets is playing compared to when he’s on the bench, so get him on the court. In the end, is the player hurting the team or helping?
So what does that mean for tonight?
The starting 5 for UT all have a positive Roland Rating per 40 minutes (RR/40) while all the bench players have a negative RR/40. Just so you all know, it’s the same way with the Pack.
Starters: McRae (+17), Barton (+5.1), Maymon (+10.8), Richardson (+13.8), Stokes (+16.3)
Bench: Chievous (-43.5), Davis (-30.7), Edwards (-130), Hubbs (-20.6), Moore (-40.5), Ndiaye (-205.5), Thompson (-4.6)
Starters: Barber (+12.1), Freeman (+12.2), Lee (+14.8), Vandenberg (+5.9), Warren (+26.3)
Bench: Anya (-45.4), Lewis (-14.9), Turner (-0.7), Washington (-15.9)
KenPom likes Tennessee by 9. I say it’ll be more.