Show Me My Opponent, 2022-23: McNeese State
McNeese State is a university in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is a place I have been to once. One of my best friends lived there for a decade and attended McNeese State. I went to the campus bookstore and bought a pair of shorts that I lost within six months. The most important artifact, however, is this.
This is called a Rowdy Rag. I can find no photographic evidence of it online, but friend of the Substack Matt has sent in his for viewing as well.
My understanding is that McNeese State fans wave these around after touchdowns and presumably for other significant football events. Do they bring them to basketball games? I am unaware, because McNeese last made the NCAA Tournament when I was eight years old. However, I like the idea of waving the Rowdy Rag around after a big dunk. Seems fun. Anyway, this is a basketball game.
BELOW THE LINE ($): shoutout to my Darrell’s Special heads
Current head coach John Aiken is a disciple of Heath Schroyer, the former McNeese coach. This is of note in…some way, presumably, but not really. Schroyer offenses committed a ton of turnovers but hit a good amount of threes to somewhat make up for it. Aiken has kept the turnovers and the threes, but as of this morning, this is on pace the be the fourth-worst offense McNeese has had in KenPom’s now-27 season history, so probably not ideal.
McNeese has four guys who share the scoring load; the best of them is #2 scorer Trae English (12.7 PPG), a point guard who is the best distributor on the team and is riding an unexpected hot streak from deep (12-for-26 ‘22-23, 6-for-38 ‘21-22). How real that is is anyone’s guess. This offense is horrible about getting bogged down in the clock or having to fart out a bad shot and go for the rebound. English is the one good jump shooter that seems capable of creating his own shot in a meaningful manner.
If he has legitimately turned the corner for good as a shooter then I’m happy to hear it, but I have a hard time believing a guy who shot 16% from deep a year ago is suddenly a 50% catch-and-shoot guy. Probably somewhere in the middle, we’ll see if regression hits in this one.
McNeese has three other guys of note on offense: Christian Shumate (PF/C, 12.9 PPG, 10.6 RPG), Jonathan Massie (anywhere from PG to PF, 10.6 PPG), and Zach Scott (guard, 9.2 PPG). Shumate is the team’s best asset at the rim and is a decent post-up threat with good shooting ability…but he is a career 49% free throw shooter, so who knows. Massie is a bad finisher for a 6’6” guy is okay at shooting and is the second-best passer. Scott is also a bad finisher, but a better shooter with 169 made threes in his career.
CHART! “Yes” means “yes AND at least somewhat efficiently”; “Somewhat” means “can, but not efficiently” or “sometimes”; “No” means “no.” FT% are career, not 2022-23.
I can’t work up any excitement or interest in the 324th-ranked KenPom offense, but I can about the 359th-ranked KenPom defense. This is for three key reasons:
The three teams they’ve played in KenPom’s top 300 have averaged 84 PPG against them;
They allow more catch-and-shoot attempts than 98% of teams in America;
Oh, and they run a 1-2-2 zone. It can look like a 1-2-2, 2-3, 1-3-1, and 3-2 on the same possession.
If you’re a Tennessee fan reading that last bullet point and you groaned, I do understand. Tennessee simply couldn’t hit open threes against USC’s 2-3 zone in Atlantis, but they were open. McNeese’s zone defense, by nature, is going to be a lot less effective than USC’s. They give up all those catch-and-shoots, force almost no runners or mid-range jumpers, and the best rim protector has committed almost as many fouls (14) as he’s scored points (19).
But: for educational purposes, we’ll get into it a bit by using the two good teams McNeese has played. Tulane runs a ball-screen heavy offense that generates a lot of spot-up threes and is reliant on guards that can drive inside to either get to the rim or hit 12-footers. They ran very few off-ball screens on the perimeter against McNeese, which tracks pretty well with everyone else McNeese has played. However, Tulane figured out the holes in this zone pretty early on, scoring 19 points on cuts, the most McNeese has given up this year.
Meanwhile, Baylor features a good amount of off-ball cuts and screens and barely features anything we’d consider ‘traditional’ in the post at all. Along with a ton of points in transition, a lot of which came because McNeese failed to get back after missed shots, Baylor was able to break down the zone by taking care of how hyper-aggressively McNeese covered the wings. Here, Baylor reverses the ball once, Dale Bonner takes exactly one dribble inside, and it creates a truly hilarious amount of space all over. It’s aggressive to a fault.
If Tennessee doesn’t let the ball linger and moves it around quickly and crisply, this could be a great opportunity for a get-right offensive game. Something north of 1.2 PPP would be wonderful to see with a baseline of, say, 1.17 as the acceptability. Translation: score points. Score 85 or more of them if you’re so kind.
How Tennessee matches up
Offensively, this is a Tennessee team that generates more catch-and-shoot attempts than 95% of teams in America playing a defense that allows more catch-and-shoot attempts than 98% of teams in America. (Both numbers per Synergy.) Considering Tennessee - a team that shot 40% over the last 20 games last year and a team that hit 37% of open threes last year - is currently shooting 31.8% overall from deep and 28% on open ones, respectively, this really is a great opportunity to see some shots drop. Or maybe this whole basketball thing is Sisyphean and we should drive a car into a wall.
Anyway, I went on record on Monday as stating I liked quite a bit of what Tennessee did against USC’s stingy zone; they just didn’t hit open shots. They’ll get considerably more open attempts in this one. Baylor is the closest high-major corollary to Tennessee on McNeese’s schedule; they generated a hilarious 21 open catch-and-shoot attempts, hitting 9 of them. Western Carolina takes a ton of threes as well; 18 of their 28 catch-and-shoots were wide open and they hit 9 of them. Just take them and eventually, they’ll go down.
Also, this is a zero-resistance rim defense that allowed Baylor and Tulane to combine for 74 points in the paint and go 32-for-42 (76.2%) on shots at the rim. Get the easy ones.
I wish I had something exciting on defense here, but…I don’t. McNeese’s offense does a below-average job of getting to the rim and doesn’t do anything very special aside from hitting catch-and-shoot threes at a national average rate. Tennessee may feel a temptation to play with their food here, but it’s a useful game of ensuring your closeouts are tight and making sure everyone is well-connected.
The only other aspect of interest is that McNeese gets stuck in ISOs a lot, with Shumate and English being the biggest users. Tennessee’s forced a lot of ISO late-clock possessions thus far and has frankly been unlucky with their results. If anything, a few guys should get more experience in one-on-one defending. If Zakai Zeigler holds up well, that’s good enough for me.
Expected starters + rotations
Trae English vs. Zakai Zeigler/Tyreke Key. Against the two good teams McNeese has played, English has been held to 13 points on 18 shots, committed five turnovers, and has had to take a bunch of tough pull-up jumpers. If he hits a couple, whatever, but this is a fine test of your ISO defense skills.
Christian Shumate vs. Olivier Nkamhoua. Same thing as English: against the two good opponents, Shumate has 15 points on 9 shots and more or less gets erased from the offense. I’d like to see Nkamhoua keep him off the boards, though Shumate even got to 10 boards against Baylor.
Three things to watch for
Make shots. I mean, I just have a hard time believing that this same white-hot shooting team last year with a collective career 3PT% of 36.6% (AKA, 0.6% above Tennessee’s 2021-22 full-season rate) is suddenly gonna shoot 32% from deep for the year.
Shot selection? I guess? I mean when you’re playing a team that allows opponents to take 82% of their shots within five feet of the rim or from three, you’d figure Tennessee (who was at 87% against Kansas) should get to that figure fairly easily.
Does Berhalter start/sub Reyna or Ferreira against Netherlands? Pulisic absolutely may be available but given that he just took the groin shot of the century I’m not sure he can go 90. Every USMNT fan wants Reyna out there and this seems like a decent time to do it. Ferreira could be interesting as a counter-attack piece. Every other GGG starting decision is fine, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another CCV/Zimmerman 60/30 run.
Tennessee makes 10 or more threes for the fourth time this season;
Kent Gilbert plays in this game;
Tennessee 84, McNeese State 49.