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Xavier v. Tennessee: Preview

Trae Golden rocking the bald/beard combo.
Trae Golden rocking the bald/beard combo.

Tennessee does not have the roster they were anticipating this year. Early disappointment came off the court when Jeronne Maymon suffered a knee injury that removed him from the lineup before the season even started. Maymon was supposed to be a keystone of Tennessee's inside attack; instead, the senior is pondering redshirting this year and coming back next season. Six-foot-eight freshman Derek Reese had routine labrum surgery in August, but he still hasn't made his way back to game action yet. Without these two, the Vols are much thinner inside than they had planned on being.

The adjustment has still been largely successful for coach Cuonzo Martin's team. Their three losses have come at a neutral site to a very good Oklahoma State team and on the road to Georgetown (albeit in gruesome fashion) and Virginia. The Vols are undefeated at home, with wins over foes ranging from very bad (Presbyterian) to very good (Wichita State). UT's schedule has had its share of mediocre teams, but they have by and large taken care of business over the first two months of the season.

Team fingerprint:
Tennessee's bread and butter is the defensive end of the floor. The Vols don't feature a lot of ball pressure, ranking under 300th in the nation in TO% and steal%. Instead, they smother the three-point arc, allowing teams to get only 28% of their field goal attempts from deep and only allowing them to shoot 25.7% on from beyond the arc. Closer to the bucket, the Volunteers also rank in the top 100 in opponents' two-point shooting percentage. Tennessee closes things out on the defensive end by allowing teams to grab barely more than a quarter of their own misses.

On the other end, they protect the ball well but are not a great shooting team. UT hits a respectable 48.7% of their shots from inside the arc but only boasts a 29.6% success rate from deep. They are aggressive in getting to the offensive glass, grabbing 34% of their own misses. They also get to the line more frequently than all but ten teams in the country. Converting free throws, however, is not a point of pride for this squad, as they shoot just 68% from the line.

Much like Wofford, UT plays a ponderously slow pace. They average just under 64 possessions per game. They also aren't very deep, getting just 28.5% of their minutes off the bench (244th in the nation).

The player:
6'1", 205 pound junior G Trae Golden
The numbers: 13.2/3.7/4.9, .390/.286/.767 shooting
More numbers: 26.4% usage rate, 38.7% assist rate, 13.4% TO rate, 6.1 fouls drawn per 40 minutes
The words: Golden is the lynchpin of the Tennessee attack. When he's on the floor, he takes 25% of the team's shots and assists 38.7% of the buckets his teammates make. In addition to that, he is also fairly stingy in regards to ball protection. In that a bad shot can be a lot like a turnover, Golden has some room to improve in terms of his offensive efficiency, but Tennessee's rebounders help to mitigate the damage caused by his less than impressive shooting line.

The player: 6'3", 195 pound senior G Skylar McBee
The numbers: 7.0/1.3/0.9, .328/.328/.900 shooting
More numbers: 2-6 from inside the arc, 12.1% TO rate, 13.4% usage rate
The words: Besides having kind of a dumb name, McBee's impact on the team comes almost solely from behind the arc. He rarely ventures close enough to the rim to grab a rebound or attempt a layup, has only two more steals this year than I do, and boasts a grand total of nine assists. His three rebounds in Tennessee's most recent game got him to a double-double on the season. McBee is out there to spend 90% of his team between the three-point arcs, and he seems content in doing so. Now that I've said this, watch for him to hit several clutch mid-range jumpers against X.

The player: 6'6", 188 pound sophomore F Josh Richardson
The numbers: 6.9/4.9/0.5, .481/.231/.538 shooting
More numbers: 17% usage rate, 7.6% OReb%
The words: Richardson, like McBee, is far from being the focal point of the offense. Unlike McBee, he doesn't seem to be afraid to get his hands dirty in a variety of other ways, ranking second on the team in steals and blocked shots on the one end of the court and second in offensive boards on the other. Not a guy who is going to jump off the page when you read the box score, but still a fairly vital cog in Coach Martin's machine.

The player: 6'9", 230 pound senior F Kenny Hall
The numbers: 7.1/6.6/0.4, .537/.000/.667 shooting
More numbers: 23.6% DReb%, 8.6 OReb%, 31% TO rate
The words: Hall is a bonified bruiser on the inside. He rebounds aggressively on both ends of the court, and only his low minutes total (52% of the team's minutes, owing in part to missing a game) keep his rate stats and raw numbers from being even more impressive. Hall has a hard time holding onto the ball, though, and is currently leading the team in turnovers. If he could clutch the pumpkin, he would doubtless be an even more valuable weapon for UT.

The player: 6'8", 270 pound sophomore C Jarnell Stokes
The numbers: 11.9/7.8/1.3, .571/.000/.534 shooting
More numbers: 25.3% usage rate, 57.1% EFG%, 13% OReb%, 19.3% DReb%, 6.4 fouls drawn per 40 minutes
The words: Jarnell Stokes is a legitimate monster in the middle. His BMI of right around 30 makes him clinically obese, but he puts that girth to good use on the basketball court. Stokes rebounds like a fiend on both ends of the floor, is tough to stop around the rim, and also finds time to lead the team in both blocked shots and steals, all while playing an impressive 70% of the Vols' minutes. You probably are already thinking this, but Stokes is the kind of player who could possibly have a field day against Xavier's willowy front line.

Six-foot-five wing Jordan McRae is the team's third-leading scorer with a line of 10.5/3.1/1.7 in the 27 minutes per game he grabs off the pine. His shooting line of .400/.333/.879 suggests more of a chucker than a pure scorer, but it's hard to argue with the production he provides. Only wings D'Montre Edwards (3.2 and 2.4, .303/.417/.571 shooting) and Quinton Chievous (1.7 and 2.7, .261/.100/1.000 shooting (!)) get more than ten minutes per game among the rest of the bench players.

Three questions:
-How does Xavier handle Stokes?
This question breaks down into two sub-questions. The first part is to address the matchup. Nobody on Xavier has the bulk to bang with Stokes, and he is also adept at drawing fouls. The last thing X needs is for Travis Taylor to spend stretches of the game on the pine with foul trouble, so it will probably fall to Stenger, Robinson, and Philmore to get the job done here. I'd like to see Stenger get the call, but I suspect we'll see a good dose of JRob. The second part is wondering how Xavier will actually perform against Stokes. Judging by the numbers put up by other wide-bodied post players against X this year, I'm not optimistic on this front.

-How will Xavier address the pace? Against Wofford, Xavier got locked into a half-court game and struggled to score the basketball. Only a couple of monster threes from Brad Redford partially redeemed the offensive "production" in the second half. Tennessee is a more talented defensive team than the Terriers (who you may have noticed were still able to lock Xavier down), so the Muskies will have their work cut out for them. If they can't turn it into a full-court game, they're going to have to come up with something a lot better than that display to which we were subjected a week ago.

-Can Xavier handle the road? Despite their travels this season, Xavier's only true road game was their win against Purdue. X showed poise in putting away a fairly good Boilermakers' squad in a tough environment. Tennessee has defended their home turf well against some fairly solid competition. Chances to pick up a meaningful non-conference win are dwindling for the Musketeers, making their performance in this game doubly important for March.

Three keys:
-Feed the post all game.
Under Coach Mack, Xavier has developed a disturbing habit of getting a post-up player (Love, Frease, Taylor) established early in the game and then turning into a guard-oriented show on offense down the stretch. Clutch threes or impressive slashes to the basket no doubt thrill the pretty ladies, but getting the ball to the post puts more stress on a defense and forces them to defend the whole court. Late in the game, heavy legs can be slow to respond, opening up one-on-one scoring opportunities or clear chances from playing inside-out. Taylor will have his work cut out for him against UT's big men, but abandoning him in the second half is not a recipe for Xavier success.

-Convert from the free throw line. It's no secret that crappy free throw shooting has hurt Xavier this season, but Coach Mack has said on multiple occasions that the team is knocking down FTs in practice like there's no tomorrow. Unfortunately, the NCAA isn't awarding points for performance in practice this year. If X wants to come out on top in a tough road game (i.e., this one), they can't leave freebies on the floor.

-Finish defensive possessions. The Musketeers' defense has been fairly solid at forcing tough shots all season, but that's cold comfort to the team if they can't turn those into changes of possession. Tennessee is not a particularly efficient shooting team, but they get to the offensive glass fairly well. For Xavier to come out on top tomorrow, they have to be able to take away Tennessee's ability to turn missed shots into second chances to score the basketball.