wvvol kicked off our Tennessee-Kentucky open game thread at 8:57 p.m. by asking, "What's [Jodie] Meeks's career high?" I responded at 8:59 that I'd let him know in two and a half hours. At 11:20, the game ended with Kentucky on top 90-72 and Meeks with not only a career high but school record 54 points. Yeah, that's right. The Volunteers as an entire team put in a mere 18 more points than did Meeks by himself.
Prescience? Not really. Mere observation over time. wvvol was on the trail first and early, a handful of games ago, if I recall correctly: If you are a guard and you're playing Tennessee, you are practically assured of having a career game.
The $1,100,000 question is why. I have absolutely no idea, so let's do a little group brainstorming, shall we?
- JaJuan Smith is gone. JaJuan was our best defender, and truth be told, he may have been our best player. Juanny was perfectly content to remain in Chris Lofton's shadow, and the esteem in which I hold Lofton is unquestioned, but Pearl's scheme thrives on defense, and there was no better defender for the Vols over the past several years than JaJuan. There is certainly no better defender on this year's team. Scratch that. No defender nearly as good.
- Offense somehow impacting defense? Again, I don't really know what's up with our offense or exactly how it's affecting our defense, but I think that it is. Guest poster and blogger for the BruceBall blog rbk says the offense isn't much, if any, worse than prior years', and I trust that judgment especially in light of the fact that it's bolstered with stats. But something is different. Is it just that most of our scoring comes from offensive rebounds? Pearl nailed that early in the season when Bob Kesling tried to credit his team for rebounding so well. "We should have a lot of rebounds for as many close shots as we miss," said Pearl (paraphrasing). We don't appear to have even one pure three-point shooter this season, much less two like we had in Lofton and JaJuan from last season. All too often we're either missing threes, mid-range jumpers, or driving to the basket and missing layups. Yes, we rebound and put them back in with great efficiency, but we do so only by having everyone crash the boards. What does having the entire team under the basket when the ball finally goes in do to a defense? Does it mean we're not getting back on defense well enough? Expending too much energy? I don't know.
- Lack of pressure defense and the full court press. This may be the thing I miss the most from last year. It seemed over the past couple of seasons that we could almost cause turnovers at will and convert them into points and then set it up and do it over again. Such series of plays and mini-runs have been all too rare this season. That's where the chaos from Pearl's controlled chaos system comes in, and chaos surely has to disrupt a shooter's rhythm, doesn't it?
- The Pilot Rocky Top League. It's well-known that the summer league that features so many of our players is generally a sort of a street ball league with players mostly going one on one against each other. Has allowing players to compete in the PRTL for two consecutive summers encouraged bad habits? Seriously, I really don't think we see as much passing on fast breaks and drives as we used to.
- Taller but slower players? The team has increased its height and wingspan, but has it come at a cost, a loss of quickness? Are we not rotating to open shooters quickly enough? Are we not fighting through screens well enough? Are we not switching appropriately?
- Leadership, inexperience, team chemistry. Tyler Smith appears to be the leader of this team. Or maybe it's Wayne Chism. With so many new and talented guys, are they still feeling their way into their roles?
- Managing expectations. We're only a few short years removed from a pretty bad basketball program. Pearl has changed things by assembling over-achieving teams. This year's team, however, was/is expected to do well. Is the weight of high expectations too much? Are we still learning how to handle them?
Still, though, heed rbk's plea not to get too caught up in a single game or even a series of games. Our expectations as fans as become a bit distorted over just a few short seasons, and we should be happy to have a team from which we expect so much.
But allowing career days has become a trend, and I'm honestly wondering what might be causing our team to grant opposing guards the green light to light us up. What do y'all think?