Ole Miss went into Wednesday’s matchup with Tennessee with a major disadvantage in the post. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon make up one of the top front court duos in the Southeastern Conference – they average over 24 points combined and are second and third in rebounding.
Because of this disadvantage, Ole Miss played zone defense for the majority of the game. Ole Miss runs the most zone defense in the SEC, as 43 percent of the Rebels defensive possessions have been in a zone.
Andy Kennedy mixes between 2-3 zone, 1-3-1 zone half court press, 2-2-1 full court press and man-to-man. Against LSU, who had a similar advantage in the post, Ole Miss played 2-3 zone for the majority of the game.
The Tiger’s starting big men, Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey, combined for eight points on 2 of 10 shooting, due to the zone and Rebel freshman forward Sebastian Saiz playing his best game.
But Ole Miss didn’t get an impact game from any post player – junior Aaron Jones was -24 in plus/minus – but it was Tennessee’s three-point shooting that stretched out the zone and opened up the post for Stokes and Maymon.
The Volunteers made 11 of 20 threes; SEC player of the year contender Jordan McRae hit six of his seven threes. But for the season, Tennessee has made just 33.4 percent of its shots from beyond the arc.
So Ole Miss had to adjust and start contesting the three-point line harder, but Tennessee made Ole Miss pay, by getting great post position and just dominating one-on-one opportunities in the post.
Here, Tennessee is going to use three players, and a fourth as a decoy, and look to get either an open corner three or a deep post up.
Darius Thompson has passed the ball to Josh Richardson on the wing. Richardson is going to swing it to Maymon and then cut to the block.
The last offensive possession for Tennessee resulted in Richardson hitting a three from the near corner. He finished with 16 points on 4 of 7 shooting on threes.
Maymon sends the ball back to Thompson and is now going to set a screen for Richardson to pop to the corner for a three.
Maymon sets a quality screen, and Jones, who is the defender in this corner, is going to fight hard through the screen because Richardson had just made a three from here.
At the same time, Tennessee is using Stokes, the team’s second-leading scorer, as a decoy to open up the lane. Stokes is going to flash to the free throw line, and as he does this, Saiz – the middle man – is focused on him, not the action in the corner. This leaves the basket unprotected.
With Jones pursuing the shooter in the corner, and Saiz getting drawn away from the basket by Stokes, Maymon slips off his screen to the hoop and Thompson makes a beautiful pass to hit him.
Maymon gets an easy basket, as all Saiz can do is wave at the shot. (At least he didn’t foul.)
Ideally, Saiz would drop and prevent the pass to Maymon, while the backside of the 2-3 zone would take care of the other two Vols. But the other two Vols are McRae and Stokes, the top two scorers for Tennessee.
While the ball is on the near side and protecting the basket is a must in the 2-3 zone, it is hard to fault Saiz and the rest of the zone for paying attention to McRae and Stokes.
Tennessee exploited their matchup in the post, but it would have been much more difficult had it not been for the hot shooting.
The result was McRae dropping 26 points, Maymon and Richardson scoring 16 apiece and Stokes adding 13. Tennessee shot 49 percent from the field and scored 1.27 points per possession – they average 1.13, and Ole Miss allows .97.
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— Tyler Bischoff