Josiah Jordan James knows what to expect from Butler in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis Wednesday night at the Imperial Arena.
“We know they have a pretty balanced attack on the offensive side,” James said Tuesday. “With their base five they score in double digits. So it’s not really focused on one specific guy on the offensive end. They are good at sharing the ball.”
The five likely starters for Butler (3-1) — guards Eric Hunter Jr., Chuck Harris and Jayden Taylorwith wing Simas Lukosius and centre Manny Bates – all averaged at least 12.5 points per game, Wednesday in the game against Tennessee (2-1) (7:30 p.m. Eastern Time; TV: ESPN2).
For the Vols, it’s just James, with 13.7 points per game, and graduate transfer guard Tire Keyat 12.7, meeting those criteria.
But that’s something James and his teammates want to change. To do this, they want to play inside out, something they haven’t done enough this season.
“We just hang up our hats to play inside out,” James said.
Senior forward Oliver Nkamhoua averages 9.3 points per game over three games, as Tennessee’s most prolific big man. sophomore Jonas Aidoo averages only 1.7 points per game.
The Vols are ready to get the 2-foot-1 senior center back Uros Plavsic who sidelined him against Florida Gulf Coast last week, after playing three minutes before being injured in the 78-66 loss to Colorado on November 13 in Nashville.
Still, he’s scored just two points and taken just three shots from the floor in his 14 minutes so far.
“What we need to improve as a team at this moment we’ve been working on,” senior guard Santiago Vescovi said, “is knowing when to shoot and get the ball in the post.”
Vols looking for ‘production points’ inside
In the season-opening win over Tennessee Tech on November 7, the Vols shot just 4-for-21 from the three-point line in the first half. They warmed up in the second half and went 10-for-23 from deep.
The momentum didn’t follow them to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, however. In the loss to Colorado, Tennessee made only 16 of 63 shots from the field and went 10-for-37 from three.
“We think we have a team that we know we’re capable of shooting the ball,” head coach Rick Barnes said Tuesday, “but if not, we need to be able to find other ways to manufacture points that allow us to do that with what we can do inside. There’s a balance we’re trying to get offensively.”
The 81-50 victory over Florida Gulf Coast was perhaps a glimpse of that desired balance. Nkamhoua scored 18 points, matching the 18 scored by James, as the Vols shot 49.0 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from the three-point line and attempted only 19 threes in the win.
“We know all season long that our best offense is playing inside out,” said James. “Our best three-point percentages are when the ball isn’t flinging around the perimeter, but we get paint contacts, when we play through our big and move on the three-point line. I think we did well against Florida Gulf Coast and shot well.”
“We worked to give Olivier and Uros and all those guys more possession,” added Vescovi. “…That was something in the Florida Gulf Coast game where you could see we didn’t shoot as many threes as we did in the past, even though we made it through that game at a pretty good clip.
“Just trying to throw it in is going to be a pretty big part of our game going forward and will help us a lot, so that’s one of our main focuses right now.”
Battle 4 Atlantis: Tennessee vs. Butler, 7:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, ESPN2
Before scoring 18 against FGCU, Nkamhoua totaled only 10 points against Tennessee Tech and Colorado, going 3-for-12 from the field, including 0-for-5 from the three-point line. Last season, he averaged 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds before an ankle injury ended his junior season.
Plavsic averaged 4.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in 14.1 minutes per game, his most productive season with the Vols to date.
Tennessee’s greats against Butler will match Bates, the 6-foot-11 center and North Carolina State transfer who averages 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in four games.
In the first of three matches in three days, the newfound focus on playing inside out is put to the test.
“We try to get our big ones involved early and often,” James said, “especially in this one to Butler. We know Manny Bates is a big key for their team, so (we will) try to get early fouls on him.”