Until some point during or immediately after Tennessee’s win at Kentucky, the Vols were playing deep, efficient, calm, smart basketball. It was systematically disassembling opposition. Tennessee was playing spring-quality basketball in the usually-clunky early season. And now, it’s playing early-season, clunky ball in the spring. Yet, the Vols find ways to continue winning and adding to its résumé ahead of tournament time.
The prevailing narrative in the week leading up to this game was head coach Rick Barnes publicly challenging star bruiser Grant Williams to “play like himself.”
In spite of early foul trouble, fueled by referees continuing to not know how to officiate such a physical player, Williams finally started to “look like himself.” He knocked defenders around in the paint and created space with his body like few players can. Barnes isn’t easily pleased, but this was the singular positive storyline in an otherwise very yucky basketball performance from Tennessee.
Finding a way to win when you aren’t playing your best cannot be overlooked as a skill, and Tennessee is doing that right now, but the clock is ticking. If Tennessee can rediscover the cold-blooded competitors the Vols were before winning at Rupp, it looks like a legitimate, deep tournament team. But pure grit without finesse is going to send the Vols home immediately.
The Vols have three games remaining, beginning at 1pm EST on the SEC Network as it visits Oxford.