Insider Mailing: February Madness Edition

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

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    We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.

    “Why do we play on Wednesday night AGAIN before the UK game on 3/2? They obviously will have that night off because, well, Kentucky.” – @Bcravens16

    Nathanael: I’m not a big believer in all the conspiracy theory stuff that floats around about Alabama in football and Kentucky in basketball, but even I have to admit that the scheduling for UK in the SEC this season is…suspect. Vince Ferrara of WNML had a tweet the other day that really highlighted it. He said that of the 14 teams in the SEC, five of them have to play 3 games in a 7-day stretch three times, seven play 3 games in a 7-day stretch twice, and one team plays that many games in a week once. Kentucky is the only team that doesn’t play three games in a 7-day stretch in the SEC schedule this season. The Vols are one of the five teams that has to do it three times.

    Do with that info what you will.

    Ben: I don’t buy into conspiracy theories, but it is weird. Nathanael laid out what I was going to say.

    “Why can’t we beat under-achieving teams by more than 8 to 10 points in the second half of the season? Beating them by 20 in start of season.” – @kasey39287336

    Nathanael: I still maintain that a lot of UT’s struggles over their last couple games has more to do with fatigue than them suddenly hitting a wall. And actually, if you take out that 46-point margin of victory the Vols had over Georgia to start SEC play, their splits in the first half of conference play to now aren’t that much different. In the Vols’ first six SEC games (excluding UGA), their average margin of victory was 14 points. In their last six games, their average margin of victory (excluding the lone loss to Kentucky) is 13 points.

    Ben: They’re beating teams on average of 13 points. That’s pretty daggum good. No complaints on this end. Tennessee has handled its business just fine for the large majority of the season. I don’t want to nit-pick the performances when they’re beating nearly every team by double-digits. That rarely happens.

    “Why can’t we guard the 3 point line?” – Hank

    Nathanael: I think that’s partially because of how Tennessee’s defense is run. They do a lot of helping and switching, and sometimes they over-help and it causes perimeter players to get more open shots than you’d like. But the three-pointer is still a lower percentage shot than an attempt in the paint, and Tennessee has done a decent job this year of not letting teams penetrate the interior of their defense consistently. They rank third in SEC play in two-point field goals made by opponents (201) and first in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage (43.6 percent). Meanwhile, they’re 13th in three-pointers attempted by opponents in conference play (308) and 12th in opponents’ three-point percentage (36.4 percent).

    Ben: Because Tennessee over-helps, switches when it shouldn’t, and doesn’t communicate the way it should. Most of it is over-helping, though, and sagging too far off its defense, especially out on the wing and in the corner. There’s no reason for Tennessee’s wing players and guards to be helping off their man in the corner to the point where they’re nearly in the paint. Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Kyle Alexander can hold their own, so there’s no need to over-help.

    “How worried are you about the men’s basketball team? Did we peak too early or is this just Feb and everyone is tired/sore?” -@htcook1999

    Nathanael: I won’t be worried unless they look bad against LSU. Ben and I talked about that in the RTI Podcast on Wednesday, actually. I think it more has to do with the team being tired and three different players being in slumps all at the same time. If the Vols look like they have the last couple games again this weekend when they play LSU, then I’ll worry. But unless that happens, I’m not going to hit the panic button just yet.

    Ben: It’s two games. And though the Kentucky game was a debacle, Tennessee played well against Vanderbilt – the shots just weren’t falling. The Vols had a great demeanor, they were hustling, running their offense, and playing great defense. The shots that they’ve been making all year simply weren’t falling. If Tennessee continues to struggle against LSU and Ole Miss next week, then I’ll be worried.

    “Are Vols fans so desperate for something special to happen that we are overreacting to the last few performances by the Basket Vols?” – Brian

    Nathanael: This is probably my favorite question this week. I think that’s a good way of looking at it, Brian. I think Vol fans are nervous that this basketball team is going to do to them what the football team has done so very often: Get their hopes up only to let them down when it matters most. Vol fans, rightfully so, are extremely desperate for a special season in a major sport, and I can understand them getting worried. But right now, I’m just not going to get too concerned about this team.

    Ben: Absolutely. I truly believe that’s the case. There’s still a ton of basketball to be played, and it’s been two games. No need to hit the panic button just yet. The team will play anywhere from 30 to 40 games. It’s been two games of rough basketball.

    “How do you feel about the way the football coaching staff has shaken out? Thoughts on 6 on offense & 4 on defense? Personally, I think it’s very logical. Pruitt is the overseer on defense & Chaney is the overseer on offense. More position groups on offense warrants more coaches.” – Kenny

    Nathanael: I think it’s the right move. Pruitt has a defensive background and should focus his time more on that side of the ball and on being a head coach. He needs to exert less control over the offensive side, and that’s why I think the hiring of Jim Chaney was perfect. I think Pruitt will trust him to be the head coach of the offense, and I think he’s assembled a stellar offensive staff. And your point about there being more positions needing coached on offense is also accurate.

    Ben: I don’t believe Jeremy Pruitt could have made done any better with the way he constructed his coaching staff this offseason. I love that there are more offensive coaches because Pruitt is a defensive guy. Theoretically, there shouldn’t be a need for a ton of defensive help because of Pruitt’s background and the addition of a brilliant defensive mind in Derrick Ansley. Essentially, Tee Martin and Jim Chaney are co-head coaches of the offense.

    “How much longer do we have to put up with Holly’s underachievement as our LV coach?” – @tjvol49

    Nathanael: Unless the Lady Vols somehow pull of a shocking run in the SEC or NCAAW Tournament this year, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if she ends up not being part of the program this offseason. And honestly, if the Lady Vols fail to make it far in the SEC Tournament or get bounced in one of the first two rounds of the NCAAW Tournament again, it would be more of a black eye on UT to retain her than to get rid of her at that point, in my opinion.

    Ben: I think if they don’t make the tournament, she 100 percent has to go. But I’ve heard the former players have backed her and if she wins a couple games in the tournament, it wouldn’t surprise me if she’s back.