Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Basketball

WBB | Notre Dame Plays a Tennessee Team Desperate for a Win

January 23, 2019

Tennessee hosts Notre Dame Thursday night in Knoxville in a game that earlier in the season looked like it would be a top ten matchup.  But, the Lady Vols have been reeling lately.  They lost their fifth game in a row Monday night.  Four of the games have been agonizingly close — by 2 to Missouri, by 2 to Kentucky and by 1 to Arkansas all at home, and by 4 on the road at Georgia.  As a result of the recent losses, the Lady Vols have dropped out of the top 25 and currently sit with an RPI rank of 45.  They are 1-5 in conference and 12 - 6 overall.

Tennessee is a talented and tall, but young, team and they are averaging 78.4 points a game (26th in the nation).  Since ND started ACC play six games ago, only Louisville averages more per game.

Evina Westbrook, a 6’ sophomore guard from Oregon, leads Tennessee in points and assists.  She averages 16.8 points and 5.2 assists per game.  Her assist to turnover ratio is 1.6.  She shoots 45.8% from two and 40.7% from three.  She only makes 67.7% of her free throws. Two years ago, Westbrook was considered the #2 recruit in the nation behind Megan Walker, who selected UConn. The Irish recruited both Westbrook and Walker, and either would have capped the recruiting class that included Danielle Patterson and Mikayla Vaughn.

Westbrook is one of six McDonald’s All-Americans (MDAA) at Tennessee (the Irish boast seven).  Two others in addition to Westbrook started the last game against Arkansas: Zaay Green, a 6’ freshman, who averages 10.2 points per game, and Kasiyahna Kushkituah, a 6’4” sophomore center, who averages 5.1 points per game.

A fourth MDAA, Rennia Davis, didn’t start the last game, but has been in the starting lineup for 16 games this season.  A 6’2” sophomore forward, she is second on the team in scoring at 13.5 and leads in rebounds with 8.2 per game.  Even though she didn’t start the last game, she still played 30 minutes, which is her average floor time per game.

The other two MDAA players are freshmen — 6’3” forward Mimi Collins (averages 4.9 points in 13 minutes per game) and 6’ guard Jazmine Massengill (3.4 points per game).

Two other players have started every game for the Lady Vols this season.  Meme Jackson, a 5’11” senior, is third on the team in scoring (12.1 points per game).  She leads the team in three-point shots and averages 2.2 made threes per game.  Two-thirds of her field goal attempts come from behind the arc.  She makes 36.4% of her long-range attempts.

Cheridene Green, a 6’3” senior forward, averaged 8.4 points and 7 rebounds per game.  She makes 55.5% of her field goal attempts.  She only averages 22 minutes per game.

The Lady Vols are a young squad — outside of two senior starters, the next 8 players likely to see action include 3 sophomores (Westbrook, Davis, Kushkituah), 4 freshmen (Z. Green, Rae Burrell, Massengill, Mimi Collins) and a junior (Kamara Harris), who only averages 8 minutes of playing time.

As a team, the Lady Vols make 43% of their field goal attempts and 33% from three.  They average 6.2 made threes per game.  They only make 67.1% of their free throw attempts.  They do get to the line often and average 14.6 makes per game (ND averages 16.8 made free throws).  They average 14.3 assists and 16.7 turnovers for an assist to turnover ratio of 0.9.  They average 9.5 steals a game and force 18.1 opponent turnovers per contest.  Tennessee’s opponents average 67.2 points per game (39.4% on field goal attempts).

This game will be the 29th time Notre Dame and Tennessee have played and the Lady Vols have won 21 times,  However, after reeling off wins in the first 20 games (from 1983 to 2008), the Lady Vols have only won 1 of the last 8.  ND recorded its first win in the series in an NCAA regional final in 2011 to earn ND’s third trip to the Final Four.  The Irish went on to win the next five games — all by double digits — before losing in Knoxville by two points two years ago.  In last year’s game, the Irish recorded the largest comeback in ND history (23 points in the second quarter) and won by 14.

Tennessee has been to 18 Final Fours and won 8 national championships (the first in 1982 and the last in 2008).  They have lost the title game 5 other times.  They have made the Sweet Sixteen every year since 1982. Unless the Lady Vol season turns around quickly, they are not likely to host two first round games, which could threaten the streak of Sweet Sixteen appearances.

Thursday’s game tips off at 7:00 eastern on ESPN.  In-game updates will be posted below.

Irish Notes:  Notre Dame currently ranks third in the NCAA in scoring at 87.8 points per game.  ND’s average margin of victory is 25.6 for the season. Scoring is down a bit across the six ACC games played to date to 84.7 points.  However, the margin of victory is up to 26.9 points as the Irish are holding ACC teams to just 54.8 points per game vs. 62.2 for the season to date (65.6 in non-conference games).

The six ACC opponents are averaging 33.3% from the field and just 23% from three (4.3 makes per game).  The thirteen non-conference opponents averaged 37.3% from the field and 28% from three (6.4 makes per game). 

The Irish have scored an average of 25.4 points above the aggregate points per game given up by the 19 opponents to date.  No team has held the Irish to within 10 points above its season scoring defense. The Irish have scored between 12.5 and 20 points above the season scoring defenses of five teams (Toledo, Drake, UConn, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest).  ND has scored between 20 -30 points above the seasonal averages of eight teams including ranked teams Louisville, Gonzaga, and Marquette.  ND has scored 30 points above the average defense of six teams including ranked teams Iowa and Oregon State.

Only three teams have held ND to less than 45% from the field: UConn (40.3%), Drake (43.1%), and Louisville (44.5%).  Overall, Notre Dame shoots 51.7% from the field including 35% from three (4.1 makes per game).  In the six ACC games, ND’s three-point shooting percentage is up to 39.9% (4.7 makes per game). The Irish only averaged 3.8 made threes in the 13 non-conference games.

On defense, only two teams have scored above their season average against the Irish — UConn (89 points vs. the current 82.8 per game) and Lehigh (68 vs. 63.4).  ND has held the other 17 opponents below their season scoring averages — 11 have been held ten points or more below their season average including all six ACC games played to date.  ACC foes are scoring an average of 16.6 points below their normal scoring rate.  Three opponents scored over 20 points below their season average against the Irish — including Marquette currently #4 in the NCAA in scoring at 84.4 points per game.  The Golden Eagles only managed 63 at home vs. the Irish.

Only one team — Lehigh — shot better against the Irish than their season average at the time and by just 0.1%.  Seven teams shot over 10% below their season average including ranked teams Louisville and Marquette. ACC teams are shooting between 3.7% (BC) and 23.3% (Virginia Tech) below their average shooting percentage.  

Fifteen teams commit more turnovers against the Irish than their average including the last ten, who commit 4.5 giveaways above average.  ND holds a 10.5 rebound per game advantage for the season.  Only two teams have out-rebounded the Irish — UConn by 5 and Drake by 3.

Looking ahead, six of ND’s last 11 games will be against teams scoring greater than 75 points per game and just one of them is in the top 25 — Syracuse at 81.1 points per game.  The two lowest scoring teams left on the schedule are Duke at 62.8 and Virginia at 57.9.

The Irish will face one top 25 scoring defense the rest of the way — NC State.  The Wolfpack holds opponents to 55.5 points per game. Florida State has a top 50 scoring defense (57.2 points).

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