The Tennessee Lady Vols' matchup on Sunday is significant.
It could be Tennessee's first ranked win of the season and a turning point for the team, which struggled through November. It's hard to label a game this early as a must-win, but this one feels like it for the Lady Vols (4-4), who face No. 9 Virginia Tech (7-0) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Here's what you need to know about the matchup with the Hokies:
The Hokies have well-balanced offense
Virginia Tech has an All-American center in Elizabeth Kitley. The reigning ACC Player of the Year picked up right where she left off, averaging a double-double and leading the team in scoring (20.3 points, 11.6 rebounds).
The Hokies' next top scorer is Georgia Amoore, who logged the program's first triple-double Thursday against Nebraska (24 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds). Ashley Owusu has been a key addition from Maryland but left Thursday's win with an apparent hand injury. The Roanoke Times reported Owusu is out indefinitely and will not play Sunday.
Sixth woman Kayana Traylor is a spark off the bench for Virginia Tech. The senior guard hasn't started once but scores an average of 12.5 points in 27.2 minutes per game. The rest of Virginia Tech's starters average double-digit scoring.
The Hokies' haven't played particularly stiff competition, but their ability to score is certainly there and Tennessee's defense – especially perimeter defense – needs to take significant steps this week.
Tennessee's offense needs to run through two players
If it wasn't obvious enough at this point, the Lady Vols need to play through two players on the offensive end: Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston.
With Tamari Key's struggle early in the season, Tennessee needs her to simply play good defense against Kitley and give her a fight on the boards. If Key can neutralize Kitley like she did in last season's win, Tennessee doesn't need Key to score much.
Virginia Tech has a strong defense, but it has yet to face two players as talented as Jackson and Horston. So the Lady Vols need to take advantage of the two seniors' scoring ability and athleticism in transition.
The Hokies haven't played against a team that was able to get out in transition and push the pace yet. Putting them on their heels early in transition and testing Virginia Tech's transition defense may be the key to winning.
Can Lady Vols find their identity?
The Lady Vols established an identity of grittiness, tough defense and rebounding early on last season. They had to without the offense to blow past competition.
This season, they have the offensive firepower – but the rest of the qualities upon which last season's identity was built are nonexistent most of the time. The Lady Vols are sitting at .500 and with the schedule still ahead of them, Virginia Tech would be a pivotal win.
Sunday will be a test of who this team decides to be the rest of the season. Who will Tennessee be with its back against the wall? The Lady Vols got punched in the gut against ranked teams; have they learned to fight back?
We'll find out in a few days.
Tennessee 78, Virginia Tech 74: This will be a close game if Tennessee has done one thing in practice this week: improved its defense. Virginia Tech still hasn't been fully tested, and if the Lady Vols step up defensively to create transition opportunities they'll have the chance to run away with a win.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Scouting report for Lady Vols basketball vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech