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Visiting Locker Room: Talking Tennessee Volunteers with Lo Dreher

There are tough times for the Volunteers heading into a clash with the Buckeyes.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State women’s basketball put its name back on the national college basketball map last season, in part because of a key win against the Tennessee Volunteers. This season, the home-and-home agreement ends, in Knoxville, Tennessee.

In that Buckeyes victory, Tennessee was a formidable powerhouse featuring top names like center Tamari Key, guard Jordan Horston, and forward Rickea Jackson. Now, Horston is in the WNBA, Key is recovering from almost a season off the court and Jackson is the linchpin in the Volunteers’ chances this season, but is currently away with an injury.

To talk about the state of Tennessee with a Big Ten/SEC battle coming up between the sides on Sunday, Land-Grant Holy Land reached out to SEC basketball expert Lo Dreher of The Committee. Dreher talks about Jackson’s impact, who — if anyone — can hurt the Buckeyes in the paint, and an outlook at the 2023-24 edition of a basketball staple.

Land-Grant Holy Land: Last season, the Buckeyes saw the Volunteers in the first game of the season. The first game as a Vol for Jackson. Now, after a year with Tennessee, the senior is playing the best basketball of her career, averaging a double-double with over 20 points per game. How crucial is Jackson to Tennessee’s success?

Lo Dreher: Jackson is the backbone of Tennessee’s team and the key to their success. She is their do all player, and in my opinion she masks a lot of roster concerns for the Lady Vols. They have struggled mightily without her. I can’t say enough about RJ and her talents, she is going to make some WNBA GM supper happy. Just an all around type player whose ceiling is … whew!

LGHL: Going into the first game of last year, Key had everything to make Ohio State’s life extremely difficult. Fouls held Key back in Columbus and then an unfortunate heart condition kept her out for the rest of the season. The center is back this year, but not starting anymore. So, who is the player who can exploit the Buckeyes defense in the paint like many have in the past few seasons?

LD: Without Jackson, I’m honestly not completely sure! There isn’t one name that just jumps out. COULD they? Maybe, but I’m not sure enough to hypothetically put my money on it.

For instance, I could say forward Jillian Hollingshead but the reality is she can be a little on and off. We never truly know what we are going to get. Forward Karolina Striplin, as well, could be her. She definitely works hard! Key isn’t really in game shape yet, and I’m not sure if the Buckeyes will allow the game to slow down enough for her to be a huge factor. So the jury is out on that one!

LGHL: The start of last year was tumultuous for the Vols as they adjusted to transfers, injuries, and a tough non-conference schedule. Tennessee ended the season strong, but this year they’ve hit a couple of speed bumps to kick off the season. How is the team different this year and how can they hurt teams?

LD: This team is different in my opinion because they have a legitimate point guard! Jordy (Walker) did fine and definitely held it down, but when we think of traditional PGs getting Destiny Wells in the building was perfect.

They also added a dynamic scorer with Jewell Spear! When she wants to take over a game she most definitely will. When Rickea comes back that one two punch of her and Jewell can really keep things off balance. I do think, on the flip, they lost a bit of intensity and fire with Jordy leaving and their defense misses her as well.