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Date/Time: Wednesday, December 5; 7:00
Record against the Vols: 7-4
Last meeting: UT 77, UVA 74; 3/18/07, Columbus, OH; NCAA tournament, 2nd round
Last game: UVA 67, UWGB 51 (12/1); G'town 37, UT 36 (11/30)
UVA: 60.4 (#345)
UT: 64.3 (#285)
UVA: 104.9 (#82)
UT: 104.7 (#84)
UVA: 89.8 (#22)
UT: 91.8 (#39)
UVA: .8297 (#38)
UT: .7939 (#55)
Projected starting lineups:
PG: Teven Jones (5.0 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SG: Paul Jesperson (4.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.8 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (16.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (12.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (7.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.0 apg)
PG: Trae Golden (11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.0 apg)
SG: Skylar McBee (7.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.8 apg)
SF: Josh Richardson (7.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 apg)
PF: Jarnell Stokes (13.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.7 apg)
C: Kenny Hall (7.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0.3 apg)
UVA's second and final chance to make an out-of-conference tournament statement comes tomorrow when they host Tennessee. The Vols shape up as a potential bubble team as well, and if the bubble is your fate, you can't do much better than to beat the other teams under consideration. UVA needs to make the best of this chance because the rest of the OOC schedule is a combined 7-19 (it turns out that ODU is, in fact, horrible) and only getting worse. Meaning it's a very RPI-unfriendly stretch of the schedule between now and the ACC opener against UNC. If you like you may also chalk this one up as five-year-old revenge for the tourney elimination of our best team in ages.
-- UVA on offense
Jontel Evans looked awfully rusty against Wisconsin, which I damn well should've expected. He started to shake it off a bit against UWGB, though; seven assists isn't shabby no matter what. Still, until further notice Teven Jones gets the starting nods, which should give you an idea of the trust Tony Bennett has in Jones. (This means at some point I'm gonna have Teven up there and it'll be Jontel starting instead - might even be this time. Oh well.)
Here's a stat for you, and a fun one: UVA is 228th overall in points per game (as a result, obviously, of tempo, not incompetence) but 65th in the country in assists per game. You would assume that means a good assist rate, and you'd be right: 23rd in the country in assist rate, with 64.3% of UVA's field goals having an assist attached. That's a necessary component of the UVA offense at the moment. Without a creator-type Sean Singletary who can pull buckets from his ass on command, you need that. Joe Harris can create for himself at times, and Justin Anderson is our best chance to have a Singletary eventually, but right now, the scorers need someone to get them the ball.
On defense this season, Tennessee has struggled to create turnovers. That's kind of an understatement; they currently rank #342 out of 345 teams in steals percentage. Even a patient, conservative defense ought to do better than that. It's a good sign for UVA, who does a decent job at taking care of the ball; our low turnover numbers are not totally the result of tempo.
However, some factors will be working against UVA. UT is one of the better teams in the country at defensive rebounding; 27th in the country, in fact, according to KenPom, in defensive rebounding percentage. Since UVA doesn't crash the offensive boards in the first place, the first shot will be the last, even more so than usual. Also, Tennessee is allowing just a .247 shooting percentage from three-point land. That's a tough number, and Tennessee has good size at the wings. Mitigating factors: UVA doesn't rely heavily on the three-ball, and a lot of that .247 comes from the inferior opposition Tennessee has faced, plus the brickfest against Georgetown last week.
On the interior, however, UVA should find room to operate. Tennessee isn't a shot-blocking team and doesn't have great height inside. Jarnell Stokes is a large (270 pounds) and athletic body, and can discourage shots, but doesn't have a major penchant for blocking them. UT is a good, athletic team and plays good man-to-man defense, but good, patient play just as we saw against Wisconsin can also break down the Vols' defense.
-- UVA on defense
Partly by necessity, Tennessee is going with a limited rotation; six players are getting the vast majority of the minutes, with two more providing spot breaks. The necessity part is that they're missing Jeronne Maymon, who suffered a setback to a knee injury before the season and hasn't made an appearance yet. Maymon gave Tennessee a 1-2 punch on the inside that they sorely lacked in the Georgetown game.
(Let's talk about that game for a second. Good God. I'm sure I participated in higher-scoring middle-school games. We can't draw too many conclusions from a brickapalooza like that one, except this: it would've been very, very low scoring even had the two teams shot 50%. Tennessee is about as crawly on offense as UVA is; the reason their tempo numbers aren't totally in the basement like ours are is because Bennett also forces use of the whole shot clock on defense as well.)
Most of the Tennessee offense goes through point guard Trae Golden. Golden has a usage rate of 23.5% and an excellent assist rate of 36%, meaning he has a hand, somehow, in almost 60% of the possession results while he's on the floor. (That is to say, when Golden's out there, 60% of Tennessee's possessions end in a shot, a turnover, or an assist by him.) That's pretty damn high. And he takes care of the ball quite well, with only a 14.4% turnover rate so far. (Keeping in mind we are still under the rule of the Small Sample Size Oath.)
Golden is a do-everything point guard who will score, take some threes (although he tends to require a high number of shots to get his numbers), and distribute as well. Where's the ball going? Usually Jarnell Stokes, taking over as the primary interior scoring option while Maymon is out. Stokes has uncanny athleticism for having a 270-pound frame, and is shooting .577, all from two. He's a rotten free-throw shooter, but UVA doesn't really have the luxury of hacking away. The better way to defend Stokes will be the same formula UVA used to stop Wiscy's Jared Berggren: keep him away from the basket and have both Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins bouncing quickly from side to side in the paint. Stokes, unlike Berggren, can match their athleticism, however.
UT's main three-point threat is Skylar McBee, a decent role player as a senior. McBee, in fact, almost never takes two-pointers; over his career, more than 85% of his shots are threes, and he's only shot three times this season from inside the arc. Strategy here: allow Paul Jesperson, or whoever is defending McBee, to wander outside the pack line. There's little reason to sag off.
UVA should also look to deny Golden off the ball as much as possible. If Stokes has the ball, concentrate on him, perhaps with a double team; in general, though, UT's players will do three things once the ball is in their hands: shoot, turn it over (only Golden and McBee take care of the ball well), or give it back to Golden to try again.
Any prediction I make this season will have the Youthful Inconsistency caveat attached to it, which is to say that this team is largely made of talented young players who will both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprise this year. (You are directed to remember this sentence when something really ugly happens in the ACC season, which it will.) KenPom is a crazy useful site in ways you wouldn't even expect, and one thing it tells us is this: UVA is the 16th-least-experienced team in the country, in a formula that gives a zero to a freshman and a three to a senior and weights a team's average experience by each player's minutes. UVA registers at 0.98 so far, which might be interpreted to say our "average" player isn't even a sophomore.
That said, the team is in a groove right now. Tennessee is not, and the likely absence of Maymon again means that they'll have to rely on six players to do most of the scoring. I think you know how that goes. They're not particularly able to try different combinations; if their game works, it works, and if it doesn't, they score 36 points against Georgetown. They offer some challenges, but aren't ideally equipped to take advantage of UVA's biggest weaknesses. Plus, the game is at home. The Hoos have a golden chance here.
Final score: UVA 66, UT 60