We will get to the Insight Bowl and all of its greatness later (and if you are simply craving for some coverage, check out Denver's two great posts on the subject), but for now I want to focus on the basketball team. We are in a new age of Kansas athletics, where the basketball team takes a backseat to the football team in December and even early January.
Still, while is not on the front-burner of all Kansas fans' minds, it is still being cooked. So, we might as well continue to talk about it. Especially now that the football season has officially come to a close. And there is no better way to get back into a basketball mood than through a great non-conference matchup.
Tomorrow's game against Tennessee should be a fine test for this young Jayhawks team. Of course, this game is about plenty more than simply a test; it's about getting a decent victory to add to the resume before conference play begins, easing the pains of those doubters who think there is a legitimate chance we miss out on the NCAA's. It's about continuing the home-court winning streak, a streak that needs to continue forever-and-ever, until we are far-and-away the best in the country. It's about, most of all, the continued development of our young players. Tennessee is a tremendously unique team, with their run-and-gun-and-fire-away offense/defense combination that gives so many teams fits. When they are going right, they are a really good team. Problem is, with the loss of (arguably) their three best players from last year, they aren't going right too often.
Still, they do have some really fine players, some of them better than others. And while they aren't nearly the team they were last year, when they were the sole victor over Memphis before the National Championship Game, they are still more than capable of beating us tomorrow in Allen Field House, of winning the (incredibly weak, of course) SEC and maybe even of making some noise in the NCAA's.
I mean, this is a team that beat Georgetown on a neutral floor; the same Hoya team that defeated Connecticut, in Storrs, Monday night. And they beat Marquette, who isn't spectacular, but is a better team than us, on a neutral floor (albeit in Nashville). So, yeah, this certainly won't be a cakewalk.
The answer as to why after the break...
1) 2-Point Field Goal Percentage
The Volunteers run a high-octane offense, with plenty of ballmovement and screens and cutting and all of that fun stuff. Movement, movement, movement. This is all to create, naturally, open shots. And what Tennesse is best at, at least on offense, is making those open two-pointers. Of the 9 members of Bruce Pearl's rotation, eight of them are shooting over 50%, with the 9th (Renaldo Woolridge) being a true freshman who has shot all of 17 two-pointers this season. As a team, they shoot 55% from two-point range, good enough for 20th in the country. They do a good job of finding the openings, as well, and as we've talked about, they knock down the shots when they get 'em. The duo to pay the most attention to are, not coincidentally, the three best players on the Vols; J.P. Prince (66%) and Wayne Chism (65%). Tyler Smith takes the vast majority of the shots, but he isn't nearly as efficient, so I suppose that's fine.
2) Offensive Rebounds
And when those two-point shot don't fall, Tennessee does a fantastic job of picking up free boards. This is especially disconcerting, considering our propensity to give up bounties of offensive rebounds against any competent teams. Brian Williams is the top rebounder on the team, a natural fit given the fact he's 6'10". And he is a mighty awesome rebounder, ranking 11th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. Wayne Chism is a mighty fine rebounder himself, and the Morris twins, whoever is in at the time, must actually box out or he should torch us all day long.
3) Defensive Rebounds
In the same line, the Vols are a good defensive rebounding team as well. They don't allow too many offensive rebounds by the opposition at all, with, yet again, Brian Williams and Wayne Chism leading the way. While the Volunteers typically have a stigma attatched that says they are soft, and simply enjoy running up-and-down the court, this year's unit is different than the teams in Pearl's past. They are, by-and-large, a more physical team that rebounds with the best of them.
However, this isn't a team that is without weaknesses. Namely, they are an absolutely terrible three-point shooting team. I mean, really, really bad. Last year, with Chris Lofton on the roster, they were quite good at knocking down the perimeter shots. This year, with no more Chris Lofton, they rank 256th in the country from behind the arc, shooting worse than 32%. The three main shooters of the three are all freshmen (Renaldo Woolridge, Cameron Tatum and Scotty Hopson), but none are terribly effective from the perimeter, and no one else on the team is even as proficient as they are. The other key weakness of the Vols is their propensity to foul, so tomorrow afternoon would be a fine time to put our pretty solid FT % into action.
So, basically, here is how it sums up. We are going to lose or win this game on the boards. Either we continue to forget to box out and let Chism and Williams run wild on the boards and the Vols knock down all of their two-pointers (and maybe even a three or two) and we lose, or we (the Morris twins, particularly) stick their butts in opponents and box out and we get the boards and we win. Yay.
Honestly, right now, not too sure which one it'll be. Tomorrow, in the short little preview contained within the Open Game Thread, I'll give my final thoughts and predictions.