Sunday, December 29, 2013

game preview: Tennessee

Date/Time: Monday, December 30; 7:00


Record against the Vols: 8-4

Last meeting: UVA 46, UT 38; 12/5/12, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 66, Mizz St 56 (12/23); UT 82, M'head St 67 (12/23)


UVA: 63.0 (#340)
UT: 64.5 (#313)

UVA: 106.2 (#127)
UT: 111.7 (#44)

UVA: 89.9 (#2)
UT: 97.9 (#59)

UVA: .8727 (#22)
UT: .8208 (#44)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (3.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.3 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.8 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SF: Justin Anderson (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (4.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.8 apg)

PG: Antonio Barton (6.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.6 apg)
SG: Jordan McRae (18.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.5 apg)
SG: Josh Richardson (7.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
PF: Jarnell Stokes (13.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
PF: Jeronne Maymon (11.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.1 apg)

UVA finishes up the nonconference portion of the schedule with a trip to Knoxville to return the other end of the home-and-home that started last season with a major slog through the defensive mud.  It's not a must-win, exactly, but neither is it a game the Hoos can much afford to lose.  Both teams will be looking at the other as a pair of shoulders on which to climb in order to reach the NCAAs, so it should be a hard-fought battle.

-- UVA on offense

At this point it's likely to be a fruitless exercise, guessing the UVA starting lineup.  Tony Bennett is still fiddling with it and probably will continue to do so, looking for the right combinations.  It might've been unthinkable a month ago, for example, to not see Akil Mitchell in the lineup, but his offense hasn't been what it was last year and Darion Atkins has been a defensive spark.

On Monday, it may hinge on how Tony wants to deal with Tennessee's power forwards, twin 6'8" 260 players in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon.  These two are going to start regardless.  Does Tony try to counter them with Mitchell and Atkins or otherwise going big (Mike Tobey, say) or does he trust to his system and have Stokes or Maymon try to guard Justin Anderson?  My bet would be the latter.  One of Tennessee's tests will be whether one of these forwards is quick enough to chase Anderson or Joe Harris around the court.

Frontcourt-wise, UT is a little thin; freshman A.J. Davis is the only other real forward to see much action this year, although there could be a wild card in Derek Reese, who made his long-awaited Tennessee debut against Morehead State last week.  Reese came off the bench to block four shots and collect ten rebounds, and his presence would significantly deepen UT's frontcourt.  He'll take minutes from Davis, but his will probably be much more productive.  However, the Vols have no true center.

The backcourt, though, is big.  Fewer than 25% of opponents' shots are from three, which is something that's true of only 18 teams in the country.  This has a lot to do with the size of their guards; 6'6" players like Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson and 6'5" bench guards Darius Thompson and Robert Hubbs have done a nice job of preventing opponents from shooting beyond the arc.  The shots opponents do get tend to be more open, and so offenses shoot a better percentage of threes than average, but many shots simply don't get taken.

Much of the game may hinge upon whether UVA can use a guard-heavy lineup (if you consider guys like Anderson and Evan Nolte guards) to force Maymon and Stokes away from the basket or out of the game entirely.  If the Hoos can punish Tennessee for sticking with their usual lineup too long, they can gain an upper hand.  The counter to that is Reese; a lighter and quicker forward, Reese may have the ability to hinder Anderson and Harris that Maymon and Stokes may not.  It wouldn't surprise if it turned out Reese was put in the game against Morehead State to warm him up for UVA with an eye toward defending a guy like Justin Anderson.

UVA will also have to make an extra pass here and there in order to find an open three; shooting over the Tennessee backcourt is going to be harder than against most teams.  Finally, using the height of Mike Tobey and the down-low athleticism of Anthony Gill to find a couple extra buckets from the paint would be well-advised, as the Vols' guards are generally their best defenders.  And as always, hit a free throw for once.

-- UVA on defense

Offensively, Tennessee is an interesting team with plenty of talent and just as many weaknesses.  The talent starts with explosive scorer Jordan McRae, averaging nearly 19 points a game.  McRae can get to the rim and is very good at it but likes to shoot from anywhere he's got an opening.  This is another reason to bet on Justin Anderson starting the game; he's got the athleticism necessary to stay in front of McRae.

UT gets quite a bit more offense as well from Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, the aforementioned power forwards.  They have some skill near the rim and both love to crash the offensive boards, getting putback points aplenty.  UVA will need to work hard at keeping them away from the basket, and with both in the game, their defenders can't count on much help.

The scoring drops off a bit after that.  Josh Richardson is a good complementary scorer, and senior point guard Antonio Barton - a transfer from Memphis - is a fair three point shooter (something in relatively short supply on this Tennessee team.)  He doesn't look for his shot first, though, and the offense runs just as much through McRae as it does Barton.  Backup shooting guard Robert Hubbs is a more assertive, but quite a bit less efficient, shooter; backup PG Darius Thompson is a less assertive shooter than just about anyone on the team but at times is a better distributor than Barton.

Scoring-wise, depth is limited.  Again, Derek Reese has the chance to be a big wild card and put a new dimension into Tennessee's offense, but stopping their big three of McRae, Stokes, and Maymon is the key.  In fact, the root of the matter may be keeping Stokes and Maymon off the offensive glass.  The most interesting matchup of the whole game is Tennessee's offensive rebounding vs. UVA's defensive rebounding, both of which are elite.  Tennessee doesn't shoot well overall, so they rely on that rebounding to pick up the slack.  They do take care of the ball very well, but they also don't have an ignition for the offense, lacking a distributing point guard and sporting a very low assist rate.

With UVA being a team that likes to encourage teams to shoot threes and watch them clank (the Northern Iowa game was especially fun in this regard, with the Panthers bricking or gravity-checking 17 of their 19 threes) everyone will have to get in on the rebounding act.  Tennessee's size in the backcourt will somewhat nullify the advantage that Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris often have, so every rebound will be a scrap.  Finally, Tennessee happens to be just as slow-paced a team as UVA, so, one, expect a low-scoring game, but also expect each rebound to really mean something.

-- Outlook

This ought to be a close one.  Each team has unique advantages and the winner will probably see those advantages magnified in the boxscore - particularly in the rebounding numbers.  If the Hoos hit the defensive glass the way they normally do, they should win.  If Tennessee can use their backcourt size to harass our scorers and defend just as well as UVA typically does, the Vols should win.  Not knowing which is more likely to occur, I think you have to give the slight nod to the home team here.  Close games often become free throw contests, and while UT isn't really any better at that than UVA is, the home floor should swing it in their favor just enough.  Don't be surprised to see this game go either way, but....

Final score: UT 51, UVA 49

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