What to expect: Tennessee Tech
Indiana is scheduled to tip off the 2020-2021 season tonight at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall against Tennessee Tech. The Golden Eagles were 9-22 last season and are ranked 314th nationally in KenPom entering the season.
Wednesday’s game will air live on BTN at 8 p.m. ET with Brandon Gaudin and Robbie Hummel on the call.
The longest offseason ever for college basketball comes to an end today. After the 2019-2020 season was abruptly ended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the altered 2020-2021 schedule with a maximum of 27 regular season games begins today.
Today’s contests will be a mixture of buy games and various multi-team events being staged across the country. Many games have already been canceled and postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests and varying protocols across conferences.
Those cancelations and postponements will be a staple this season, but games are going to be played. Each program will try to navigate its way to the minimum number of contests needed to qualify for the NCAA tournament scheduled to take place in March.
Up first for Indiana is one of its two guarantee games and the foe is Tennessee Tech from the Ohio Valley conference. The Golden Eagles will be without their head coach, John Pelphrey, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. As will be the case with every Indiana game this season, the teams will have to pass a final round of virus testing today before the ball is tipped.
A QUICK LOOK AT TENNESSEE TECH
The headlining returnee for Tennessee Tech is junior guard Jr. Clay, who was a second team all-OVC selection last season. Clay’s 13.4 points led the Golden Eagles and he also averaged 3.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 29.6 minutes per game.
Clay, who is only 6-foot, shot just 46.4 percent on 2s and 31.7 percent on 3s as a sophomore. Clay scored in double figures in each of Tech’s final 24 games last season and took 107 more shots than anyone else on the Tech roster last season.
Sophomore guard Keishawn Davidson will join Clay in the backcourt after leading the team with 4.4 assists per game in his first season. The 6-foot-2 Davidson was also second on the team in scoring at nine points per game. His efficiency from the perimeter was lacking (33.3 percent on 3s), but as a duo, Clay and Davidson are interchangeable in terms of playmaking and scoring.
Another key returnee in the backcourt for the Golden Eagles is sophomore Tujuatae Williams, who had offers from Texas Tech, Minnesota and New Mexico out of high school before committing to Tennessee Tech. The 6-foot-5 wing averaged 6.4 points and 3.9 rebounds and started 21 games as a freshman. Williams is a good athlete and finisher, but like most of Tech’s team, is a poor perimeter shooter.
Tech’s best returning player in the frontcourt is Amadou Sylla, a 6-foot-8 native of Mali. Sylla is only 210 pounds and will likely have trouble with Indiana’s size in the post. Sylla, however, was the best offensive rebounder in the OVC as a sophomore. The remainder of Tech’s roster is mostly composed of eight newcomers who will have varying degrees of impact as the season moves along.
Like most low major teams with records far below .500, the KenPom profile for Tennessee Tech was ugly last season.
The Golden Eagles ranked 334th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 310th in adjusted defensive efficiency in Pelphrey’s first season. Tech was nearly last in the country in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) at just 21.9 percent and turned it over on 21.6 percent of its possessions.
Defensively, Tennessee Tech did a decent job of forcing turnovers and keeping its opponents off the line last season. The Golden Eagles turned their opponents over on 19.6 percent of their defensive possessions and were 81st nationally in opponent free throw rate (28.5 percent).
Throughout the preseason, Archie Miller has seemed focused on getting his team to take care of the ball much better than it has in his first three seasons while also focusing on generating more assists. The Hoosiers have shown steady improvement defensively in each of Miller’s first three seasons, but this group’s ceiling can only be raised by putting a more efficient offense on the floor.
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
Indiana is a heavy favorite in Vegas (22 points) and this is a game it should win comfortably.
While early-season buy games are typically meaningless in college basketball, they actually have some relevance this season for a few reasons. Tonight’s game is the only schedule tuneup for Indiana before the Maui Invitational at Asheville next week. The Hoosiers have not played any exhibitions or closed scrimmages this season due to NCAA rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also marks one of the few opportunities for Miller to get his four freshmen – Khristian Lander, Anthony Leal, Trey Galloway and Jordan Geronimo – some minutes before a scheduled four-game stretch that will likely come against all high major competition.
Indiana’s non-conference schedule is ambitious and could either act as a springboard to a solid NCAA tournament resume or put the Hoosiers in a position where they need to outperform expectations in league play to return to March Madness for the first time since 2016.
Filed to: Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles