Tennessee experiences another slow start and never fully applied the clamps, but still casually handled the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns tonight. This team has incredible chemistry, but will absolutely need stronger starts and plenty more killer instinct as competition increases. Still, they’re consistently impressive on both ends of the floor, clearly enjoy playing with each other, and are still improving. Here are tonight’s hot points:
IF YOU BUILD IT: Tennessee has always failed to truly weaponize one of its greatest assets: the great-big gym they play ball in. Maybe the most telling sign of the state of Tennessee basketball in 2018 is the fact that the Vols are finally drawing large, enthusiastic crowds to games like Lenoir-Rhyne and Louisiana. Tennessee has drawn smaller crowds to conference games in the (very) recent past, but after a magical homestretch in 2017 and with a current #6 ranking, Tennessee’s hoops hype is in full bloom. If this team keeps on track into conference competition, TBA could finally be the weapon it always had the potential to be, as the 5th largest basketball arena in the NCAA.
SLOW STARTS CONTINUE: Once again, Tennessee came out with their pj’s on, sleepwalking through the first 10mins against inferior competition, allowing Louisiana to even lead the game 13-10. Similar to Lenore-Rhyne, Rick Barnes seemed to summon “the clamps” and send the Vols on a 20-2 run, but the Cajuns refused to buckle, finishing the first half with Tennessee only leading 48-31. This trend will cost Tennessee if they don’t solve it soon.
CRACKS IN THE PAINT: Yves Pons can, as we’ve seen, defend all 5 positions, but tonight we saw him continue to struggle in managing his frame. The result was 4 very unnecessary fouls, and neutralizing some previous depth in the paint for Tennessee. Pons is a star, but this is going to be a recurring issue, it seems, and tonight we saw that Tennessee is going to reeeeally need Derrick Walker to step up and provide support when Kyle Alexander is resting. The Vols have been getting some paint sauce from Fullerton, and have Zach Kent and DJ Burns on the bench, but against big, legit teams, Tennessee will need all their board crushers ready for prime time. The drop-off tonight w/o Alexander or the aggressive Pons was vivid.
DOUBLE TROUBLE: Tennessee is getting points from everybody right now, with all 5 starters in double digits and full-grown-man Grant Williams casually dropping 31 tonight. His toughness, leadership, ability to dominate inside and still shoot with touch from deep is so much fun to watch. His constant praise still feels understated.