UT is ranked #1 in the RPI, while we are #90 something. This will be a difficult game, but if we could somehow pull it off on national TV, it's the type of game that could turn our season around. We usually play our best against Tennessee for whatever reason. I cannot remember the last time they beat us in Tuscaloosa. Even last year, when we had no business even competing in Knoxville, we took them to overtime and lost on a questionable call. This game may be closer than the experts think.
The key will be how we handle the press. We've struggled against it all year. We did a good job in the first half of the Clemson game, but more than made up for it with a dreadful 2nd half of that game. With the number of guards we have who are capable of handling the ball, we SHOULD be good at attacking the press. Hopefully the coaching staff has spent a lot of time the last few days preaching the fundamentals. Some things I would like to see us do tonight:
-Refrain from inbounding the ball into the corner. Keep the ball near the middle of the court, and anticipate the traps. After making a pass, immediately cut to the open area of the court and look to receive a pass. Using a series of short, quick, diagonal passes, we can beat the press.
-If we do in bound into the corner, immediately pass back to the man who threw the ball in, who will then reverse it to the other side of the court. This will give us a numbers advantage on the strong side and help us get the ball up without turnovers.
-Run the baseline after a made basket. Why we never do this, I don't know. This helps create passing lanes and also can be used to fake the inbounds to one side and then go to the other. I'd also like to see us run the play where we throw the ball to a teammate behind the baseline who then inbounds either down the court or to the original inbounder.
-When we do pick up the dribble and get caught in a trap, the other players need to come help out. We can also fake the lob pass and utilize a bounce pass in the backcourt when necessary.
This is all basketball 101 stuff, but unfortunately I haven't seen any of it this year when we've been pressed. If we will execute these fundamentals, we should be able to get some easy baskets against the press.
Conventional wisdom says you want to slow down the pace with Tennesssee, but with our lack of production in the halfcourt offense, we need to attack the basket every chance we get, in my opinion. We need to have an primary and secondary break on offense before settling into our halfcourt sets. The key is to hustle back on defense after made and missed opportunities.
The old adage is that pressing teams don't like to be pressed. I don't think we can beat them in a full court, 40 minute game, but I would throw in an occasional press just to mix things up. Normally I would suggest pressing after made free throws, but the way we shoot free throws that may only be once or twice per game. We will need to change defenses frequently to keep them off balance, but I would start out in a 2-3 matchup zone. With Hollinger and Riley in the game, I worry about us getting beat on the ball in a man to man, but I think if we extend the zone and matchup out of it, we can still defend the perimeter. Hendrix should be able to defend the paint by himself. If Lofton starts to go off, I switch it up and bring Tubbs in to defend him.
Given the amount of pressure Tennessee puts on the ball, point guard play will be key. Hollinger did a great job of running the point against auburn, but this isn't auburn. Rico may not have the experience to be able to count on a great game out of him at this point against this type of team. I would like to see Torrance get the bulk of the playing time at point, especially considering how well he played against Tennessee last year. He has the experience and the tools to handle the pressure. I would like to see Hollinger get a lot of time at the 2 guard to help bring the ball up and hopefully knock down some 3's. Also, Tennessee likes to overplay the passing lanes, so I think we could spread the floor and use Gee on the backdoor cut to get some easy baskets after faking a pass to the wing.
In conclusion, if we protect the ball (assist to turnover ratio), play good transition defense (GET BACK!), shoot the ball well, and Hendrix can pick up 15 or more points and 10 rebounds or so, then we will have a shot.