KNOXVILLE – Tennessee upgraded its record and five Lady Vols padded their scoring averages with double-figure performances on Sunday.
An 81-54 women’s basketball victory over Air Force before an announced matinee crowd of 8,032 at Thompson-Boling Arena did wonders for a lot of the Lady Vols’ numbers. But will the outcome upgrade their RPI rating?
Tennessee (7-0) began the day ranked No. 151 nationally by the website RealTimeRPI.com. RPI stands for rating percentage index and reflects a team’s strength of schedule. In Tennessee’s case, it’s a glaring weakness.
RealTime rated UT’s strength of schedule at No. 342, the worst among all 14 SEC teams. Air Force (1-7) was the fourth team that UT has played so far this season with an RPI in the 300s.
“We were giving away some serious numbers on pounds and inches,” Air Force coach Chris Gobrecht said. “We had to make up for it with scratching and clawing.”
Air Force freshman forward Riley Snyder did her best, scoring a personal best and game-high 20 points. She and her teammates also gathered 40 rebounds, outrebounding by one a UT team that was ranked second nationally in rebounding margin at +18.3.
“I’ve been concerned about it,” UT coach Kellie Harper said about the rebounding. “The numbers haven’t reflected my concern but I knew it was going to catch up with us.”
Forward Rennia Davis, who had 18 points and shared team scoring honors with Rae Burrell, said that Harper has been stressing the details of UT’s play instead of the bottom-line results.
“It’s a real focal point with Coach Kellie, just the little things,” Davis said. “As far as like boxing out. Today it kind of caught up with us.”
Harper inherited UT’s non-conference schedule and it will get tougher beginning with next Sunday’s visit from Texas. A game at No. 3 Stanford is looming on Dec. 18, and UT will travel to No. 4 Connecticut on Jan. 23, in the midst of conference play.
Going forward, Harper sounded intent on upgrading the schedule’s degree of difficulty throughout non-conference play.
“You’ve got to prepare your team,” she said. “You’ve got to prepare your team for conference (play). If your team is good enough to get in the NCAA tournament, you have to prepare them with a schedule that gets them there and allows them to be successful.
“You can go back and look and our schedule has been a gauntlet, really tough challenges in November. We may have struggled in November and our record reflected that but we were sure pretty good in January and February and March. And that’s when it matters the most. I think we’ll really try to make sure we’re challenging our players to the best of our ability early on.”
Factor in SEC play and RealTime projects Tennessee’s RPI eventually rising to 28 with a strength of schedule of 38. The website predicts UT’s record to be 19-10, 8-8 in conference play.
In the meantime, the Lady Vols will try to appreciate Sunday’s outcome for what it’s really worth, beginning with the rebounding.
Said Harper: “I’m hoping this stat sheet is what it will take for them to maybe understand that they’ve got to buy in to another level.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org