Welcome back to our semi-regular feature Friends With Bennies, where we sit down with another blogger to talk about their team. Today we have Will from Rocky Top Talk to talk about tomorrow's game with Tennessee. I also answered some questions for them which you can check out here.
TheUConnBlog: When UConn and Tennessee met last year it was right in the middle of Bruce Pearl's downfall. What's different now that Cuonzo Martin is in charge?
Rocky Top Talk: Halfcourt defense is the biggest difference. Early in the year the Vols were still playing like a Pearl team, and even did well with that style in Maui in close losses to Duke and Memphis. But in the last couple of weeks, probably sparked by a blowout loss at Memphis in the return match, Tennessee has embraced physical, relentless halfcourt defense. Even in the frustrating loss at Georgia, the defense was consistently strong. They don't press like Pearl's teams and they are much less talented overall, but they will play defense.
TUB: Two weeks ago Tennessee upset Florida, but they've lost three games since then. What caused the slide and will the Vols be able to turn it around?
RTT: The first two games of the slide were caused by playing Mississippi State and Kentucky. Those two are way more talented than Tennessee, especially in the paint. We were actually really encouraged by the way the team played even in losses. The Georgia loss happened because the Vols shot 12% from the arc, 50% from the line, and turned it over 20 times. So we're still encouraged that we were able to be that bad on the offensive end, and still lost in overtime. They don't need much offense the way they're defending, but it can't be that bad either.
TUB: Jarnell Stokes has only been a Volunteer for a few weeks, but it seems like he's had a big impact already. What has he done for the team and how can UConn stop him?
RTT: Stokes is ridiculously big for a kid that just turned eighteen. He's listed at 6'8" 250 and wears a size 20 shoe. The Vols had size inside with Jeronne Maymon, but now that Tennessee can put both of them on the floor at the same time post play has become this team's strength. But the rest of the team has been slow to realize it and still shoots too often from the outside. If you encourage us to shoot the three, we will - that's the best way to stop him.
TUB: Jeronne Maymon didn't see the floor against UConn last year, but he's putting up some nice numbers so far this year. How much of an impact will he have against UConn's front court?
RTT: Like Stokes, Maymon is a beast when the Vols get him enough touches. But you guys are one of the few teams on our schedule that should be able to matchup with Drummond and Oriakhi. Foul trouble has been an issue for Maymon, who sets screens aggressively and often picks up cheap ones out on the perimeter off a switch.
TUB: Geno Auriemma: Best women's basketball coach ever or greatest women's basketball coach of all time?
RTT: I passed this off to Chris Pendley, one of our Lady Vol writers:
"Sure. Let me just check the career women's basketball wins leaderboard ....huh. Well. What about national championships? ....hmmmm. Well, lookit that. Same person."
TUB: Do you have a score prediction?
RTT: Close is what Tennessee does - 10 of our 18 games have come down to the final minute, including games against Memphis, Pittsburgh, Mississippi State, and Kentucky. With our newly discovered love for defense and your recent struggles on the road against teams on our level, I'll take the Vols at home in an ugly one, 57-56. Tell Geno we'll see him in Denver.