Tennessee enters this afternoon’s game with a record of 13-9, 5-4 in Southeastern Conference action. The Volunteers are coming off of a one-point win at Alabama Tuesday evening, a game that they trailed by as many as 15 points late in the first half. Tennessee lost one of their best players, Lamonte Turner, in December after he announced his college basketball career was over due to lingering shoulder injuries. The Redshirt Senior had been a 4-year contributor in their backcourt and was averaging a career-best 12.3 points per game when his career was cut short. The Volunteers are a streaky 3-point shooting team that relies on controlling the pace and a very good defense to try and keep the game in the sixties. Tennessee leads the SEC in Scoring Defense, allowing just 61.5 points per game (20th in the country) while holding opponents to 38.9% shooting. They feature an athletic defense, led by Yves Pons, that blocks nearly six shots per game which is 7th nationally in that category. Coach Rick Barnes has fought the injury bug this season, but did pick up a key mid-season enrollee in Freshman Guard Santiago Vescovi. Vescovi has handled the ball a lot for the Vols while also serving as their best 3-point shooter. This will be the the fourth consecutive road Saturday for Kentucky in what promises to be yet another hostile environment in Knoxville. Let’s dive in and learn some more about how to beat the Tennessee Volunteers.
#25 Santiago Vescovi: 6’3″ 188 lbs, Freshman Guard
10.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg
Lefty. Combo guard. Handles the ball a lot for them. SHOOTER!!! NO 3’s! 55 of 88 shots have been 3’s. Have to be there to take away the catch-and-shoot 3’s. Get over the ballscreens. Chase him off downscreens and get over the flares. Be tight on him. No help off of him at all. Once you take away the catch-and-shoot he will look to drive it left. Make him drive it. When you get him driving it right he will either look for a jumper or will drive it deeper just to pass. He is shooting a higher percentage from 3 than 2. Really pressure him and make him uncomfortable when he has the ball. Averaging 3.6 turnovers per game. NO 3’s!!!
#23 Jordan Bowden: 6’5″ 193 lbs, Senior Guard
13.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.5 apg
Combo guard. Very aggressive offensive player. Contest everything! Very willing 3-point shooter, but only shooting 26.4%. No right hand drives! Capable driver going either way, but wants to get back to his right hand to finish. Likes to use the crossover to try and get by you. Give him a step and stay in between him and the basket. Give a hard contest on the jumpers. Really likes to shoot the pull-up jumpers. Will shoot the jumper when he is going left and try to get all the way to the basket when he is driving right. Not a great finisher. When he doesn’t have it you can help on drives or dig the ball out of the post. If it gets kicked to him just closeout a step short. Stay between him and the basket! No layups.
#35 Yves Pons: 6’6″ 215 lbs, Junior Guard/Forward
11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.6 bpg
Lefty. Physical freak! No left hand drives! Capable catch-and-shoot. Making one 3-pointer per game on 34.3% shooting. He is just going to shoot the obvious, open catch-and-shoot 3’s. Closeout a step short and just be ready to give a hard contest if he shoots it. DO NOT get beat to his left off the dribble. Don’t closeout beyond the 3-point line. Don’t help too much off of him because he can catch-and-shoot and beat you in closeout situations. Have to stay between him and the basket. Very physical around the basket. Keep him out of the paint. Not thinking about passing when he drives it so you can come help. Left hand, right shoulder if he catches it in the post. Come dig the ball out of the post when he catches it inside. Excellent offensive rebounder. BOX OUT!!! Use the shot fake when he is guarding you. He is trying to block everything.
#10 John Fulkerson: 6’9″ 212 lbs, Redshirt Junior Forward
12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg
Lefty. Slasher, driver, and looking for duck-ins. NO LEFT HAND DRIVES!!! Very good at catching the ball around the elbows, short corners, or top of the key and driving it from there. Always looking to drive it left. Will drive it right to set up the spin coming back to his left. He is always going to spin back left. Be physical on his right shoulder and keep him going right. He will shoot it back into you with his left hand when going right. Excellent finisher around the basket. Posts up really hard. Stay between him and the basket. Left hand, right shoulder in the post. Would rather face you up and drive it left or spin back left if he doesn’t have a deep catch. Likes to make his post moves to his right and then come back left. Closeout short if he catches it on the perimeter. Be physical with him. No left hand drives. No layups. BOX OUT!!! Averaging 2 offensive rebounds per game.
#34 Uros Plavsic: 7’0″ 240 lbs, Redshirt Freshman Forward
4.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg
Tall and long. Doesn’t want the game to be physical. Likes to face-up and shoot a little 8-10 foot jumper. Contest it when he shoots. Right hand, left shoulder in the post. Get him off the block. All right hand. Make him score with you between him and the basket. Box out!
#5 Josiah-Jordan James: 6’6″ 208 lbs, Freshman Guard
7.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg
Missed the last two games due a groin injury. Started the first 20 games of the season so he will probably start if he is available. Lefty. Guard. Handles the ball a lot. Good 3-point shooter. No catch-and-shoot 3’s. Just as good from 3 as he is from 2. Don’t help off of him. Make him drive it and then contest everything. Long and athletic. Once you take away the catch-and-shoot 3’s he will look to drive it left. No left hand drives. We want to closeout to take away the catch-and-shoot 3’s and then try to force him to drive it right. Pressure him and make him conformable. Be ready to give a hard contest to the pull-up jumpers. Box out! Will fly in from the perimeter when the shot goes up.
#21 Olivier Nkamhoua: 6’8″ 224 lbs, Freshman Forward
3.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
Backup post player. Will rim-run and look to seal at the front of the rim. Strong. Good finisher around the basket. Right hand, left shoulder in the post. His percentages will go down the further you make him catch it off the block. Will drive it right. Stay between him and the basket. Plays hard. Box out.
#13 Jalen Johnson: 6’6″ 196 lbs, Redshirt Junior Guard
Lefty. SHOOTER!!! NO 3’s!!! 46 of 60 shots have been 3’s. Just wants to shoot catch-and-shoot 3’s. Once you take away the 3’s he will look to drive it right. Driving to pass when he puts it on the floor. No help off of him! Chase him off downscreens and get over the flares. Find him in transition. No 3’s!!!
#0 Davonte Gaines: 6’7″ 178 lbs, Freshman Guard
Lefty. Long and thin. Be physical. Really pressure him when he has the ball and make him uncomfortable. Willing shooter. Closeout short to guard against the left hand drive. We will adjust if he makes a couple from outside. Make him score with you between him and the basket.
Tennessee is very a much a half-court team offensively, but they do look for some early scoring opportunities out of Secondary. They are a Motion offensive team that has a lot of rules to their actions so they know what to do based on how the ball is entered. We will break down several of those options below. The Vols don’t run many set plays, so knowing their personnel and understanding their primary Motion actions is the key to success.
Motion (Staggered Double, Read & React): This is the type of offense that you will see on the vast majority of their possessions. Coach Barnes teaches their trail spot forward to “create traffic” at the top of the key as they initiate their offense. As the Point Guard attacks off that little flat screen, the rim-run forward will duck-in and look for the ball at the front of the rim. Once they pass it back to the trail spot, that is where they have some options. When the ball gets reversed like it does here, they are automatically into a staggered double screen. They will read the screens off the double. Here, #23 Bowden ends up back-cutting because his defender overplays the screen. This means that #25 Vescovi, who was the first screener, comes off a downscreen. His defender “goes up through” the down screen so he flares it behind the screen for a 3. This was an outstanding possession of them executing their Motion. We want to “CHASE” Vescovi off all downscreens.
Motion (Staggered Double, Curl): This possession starts essentially the same as the one before. They really like to curl that first screen on the staggered double so we have to be prepared for that. If you are going to switch you have to be ready for the curl.
Motion (Trail Spot Drive): Especially when #10 Fulkerson is at the trail spot they like to throw it back to him to let him drive it. Fulkerson is a left hand driver, but from the trail spot he really likes to drive it right so that he can spin back left. He is ALWAYS going to come back left.
Diagonal Screen-the-Screener: This is half-court set they will call the most outside of their Motion. They begin by hitting the left wing as the Point Guard cuts through to the backside. Then, they set a little high cross screen to get a guard down to the backside block as the ball starts to get reversed. They will set the diagonal back screen and then screen-the-screener. In this clip, though, they aren’t able to fully get the ball reversed so #10 Fulkerson does what he does best: takes two dribbles to his right to set up the spin back to his left for a layup.
Cross Screen: This action will start in more of a Box Set with the forwards around the elbows and the guards on the blocks. The guards will interchange with each other as one of the guards cuts out to the right wing as the other cuts up to the top of the key. They will hit the guard on the right wing as the ball side forward sets a cross screen for the other forward as they look to go inside.
The Volunteers are a man-to-man team that will pick us up in a 1-2-2 three-quarter court soft press that is just intended to slow us down and initiate offense later in the shot clock. If there is an obvious trapping opportunity they may take it, but they really want to get matched up out of it and guard in the half-court.
Keys to the Game
- Control the Tempo. They want to play a slow, methodical, half-court game. Everything they do offensively and defensively is to try and keep the game in the 60s. We need to take the action to them both with on-ball pressure and flying in transition when we get opportunities.
- Contain #35 Pons. He is “only” averaging 11.2 points per game, but he is their difference-maker. Very tough matchup. Start the game by staying between him and the basket. He has a slow release so you can still give a hard contest if he shoots it. Guard his left hand! No layups! Come help when he drives unless you are guarding #25 or #13. If he makes a couple 3’s early, those are on “us” and we will adjust. Keep him off the offensive glass!
- No 3’s for #25 Vescovi or #13 Johnson. These are the two guys that we are not helping off of. Get over the ballscreens on Vescovi and chase him off downscreens/get over flares. Same for Johnson. If #5 James plays we want to take away the obvious catch-and-shoot 3’s from him.
- Dominate the Glass. Tennessee is an average offensive rebounding team overall, but #10 Fulkerson and #35 Pons are excellent individual offensive rebounders. The goal is to hold the team to 8 or fewer. They are not a great defensive rebounding team so we need to get to double-digit offensive rebounds.