Wow, what can really be said that isnt already flooding the msg boards and blogs across the the web? I think when a team underachieves there are going to be those fans and critics who will be tough on that team. I believe everyone would agree that this team has under achieved this season. Sure you can say, if winning a share of the SEC East is underachieving then our expectations are too high, well lets examine that. First they did not go out and flat out win the East, in fact for awhile it looked like they may finish 3rd or 4th and then luckily the other teams lost and let them back in. So bottom line is that they backed into a share of the East more then just going out there and being in control of the East.
In the SEC Tourney they got to the finals, which was the best the Vols have done in a long time, so even though they lost in the finals I don’t think they underachieved in the SEC tourney. What was disappointing is the fact they got beat by a Mississippi State team that played horrible and had the Vols just played decent, they would have won easily. In other words if they could have played like they did the first two games.
On to the NCAA, I think Jim Boeheim said it the best after their conference tourney. he said the only thing that will be remembered about this season is how we do in the NCAA. Unfortunately for Tennessee that is how most fans will judge this season as a one anddone in the big dance. The game against OSU just had a terrible feel to it which started with the announcers and there obvious biased excitement for Eaton and OSU, andthen the ever present frustration of inconsistent refereeing (which happens in all basketball, it is by far the worst thing about the game) Tennessee was not able to build a lead when OSU had starters on the bench, Williams let a much smaller Moses push him around. Tennessee played soft inside, Then at the endof the game the Vols had two crucial turnovers with in 30 seconds which they went from 2 up to 3 down. It was a moment in the game that was just so telling of how this season has gone. Then again in the final seconds they were forced to make a shot and just didn’t get it done. Oh yeah I hope everyone took note on how Eaton blew right by Tabb(our supposed best defender) like it was nothing, right to the rim to take the lead. Eaton also went from the 3 point line and took 3-4 steps righ toward the goal before Tatum even made one step over to try and help(sad)
I always find it puzzleing when players get these labels like “a lock down defender” and it sticks with them regardless of how the play after they earned the name.
So the theme to the year was flat out inconsistency, coupled with lack of effort, missed free throws and lay ups. But why were they so inconsistent?, was it the coaches the players or both? Well lets start withthe coaching. Now first I want to clarify that Bruce Pearl is my Homeboy and I am very happy with what he has done for our program. But did he coach this year like the last three, Yes and No. He changed his on court style of play but didn’t change the other things it takes to play that style such as player rotation and evaluating how players are playing at any given time. I remember way back at the beginning of the season when Chip and I were getting fired up about all the Baller Vols and the talent Bruce had recruited. AndI said, I sure hope he can get the players withtalent to play withthe same heart as he did with our “so called lesser talented players” I didn’t know it then but that is what this season was all about. As far as coaching Bruce abandoned the full court press, He didn’t keep the pace up where we were trying to score most of our points out of transition(unless the other team played that pace, then we usually won) He allowed a half court offense that gave everyone the green light to do what ever they wanted andthe result was a team with the 11th worst SEC and 290th in the nation 3pt FG% fired up three after three. But what is interesting as that the Vols led the league in FG% but was 11th in 3 point %..tells me that they should have played more inside the arc. The vols were also 1oth in free Throw% and 1oth in rebounds per game, 3rd Offensive and 10th defensive. The vols were also 10th in Steals. looks like they didn’t play much defense.
Here is a stat that I find very interesting, is how our starting players ranked in the SEC for minutes per game played.
Tyler Smith 7th at 32.5, next was J.P Prince at 37th with 26.5,(wow thats 30 players in between the two) then Chism 42nd at 25.6, Maze 47th at 25.0 and Hopson 55th at 23.2, that means that 4 of our starting five were on the bench for more then 14 minutes per game, I wonder why there is no consistency. It tells me that Pearl changed the style of play but not how he substitutes. Pearl Substituted this year by the clock, like clockwork. There seemed to be no re-guard for who was playing well or who wasn’t. several times a player would hit a hot spurt and the other team would call time out and when they came back on the court the hot player was on the bench. In other words he subbed like he was playing a 40 minute full court press and needed to rest players(not the case) overall I don’t think there was a whole lot of coaching happening. To me it was kinda like “it is what it is” lets just play and let the chips fall where they may. And they didn’t fall Tennessee’s way in the big games. I didn’t see very many in game adjustments, I didn’t see players being benched for mistakes, pretty much every game went like this, if they came out and hit 3 point shots and lay ups, they won the game if not they lost, it wasn’t like they manufactured wins by changing during a game.
Now let me talk about point guards. First your hear it all over TV, you cant win in the big dance without solid point guard play. Tennessee definitely has not had good point guard play, but I think it is for a different reason then most people. I think it is because Maze split time with Tabb. And by split I mean almost Half and Half. Maze was a different player when Tabb was in trouble and Maze played over 30 minutes a game. Tabb gets out of the doghouse and takes 17 –18 minutes of Mazes playing time, thats almost a entire half. There is not one single team left in the NCAA that has there point guard on the bench 17-18 minutes a game. Everyone says we don’t have consistency at the point, well how can anybody be expected to run the point effectively when you play 6 minutes and then sit 4 minutes then play 4 minutes and sit 6 minutes. its just crazy, I don’tthink there is one elite level coach that would tell you that is a winning formula for the point. I personally think Bobby Maze has the biggest reason of all to be upset with how this year turned out. In the beginning of the year when we found out West was off the team Pearl was concerned about who could provide the minutes for Maze when he needed to rest, I didn’t know he was looking for somebody to play half the game,(okay enough of that but it has been my peeve all year) Sure I like Tabb, I think he could have gotten minutes elsewhere, perhaps spell Prince or Hopson. At the point Maze led Tabb in nearly every catagory and I dont think they really gained anything by having Tabb in the game at point. But conversely they did lose the ability for Maze to continue to gain feel for the game, get to know the other team, get to know how his players were playing and get in a rythym. basically run the offense. here is another interesting tell in the contrast of point guard play, in 34 games this year Jodie Meeks, arguably the best PG in the conference played a total of 1172 minutes, and our very own Bobby Maze played 852 minutes. that works out to be 8 games, Meeks played an entire 8 games worth of minutes more then Maze. Johnny Flynn at Syracuse play 12 games more minutes then Maze. 12 games, wow.
J.P. Prince, JP was probably the most Talented, frustrating and inconsistent player on the team. JP never committed a foul all year, he made lazy passes, but he also made great passes, didn’t play much defense and missed alotof shots. JP was also the type of player that constantly displayed a cocky attitude with extreme fist pumps, dances, salutes and yells whenever he made a “offensive play” Fans love what you do on offense but they also want to see the effort on the defensive side of the ball. However JP was the one player that could do things that made you jump out of the seat and say wow. JP has a chance to do something special next year.
Tyler Smith., well it was his team this year. and he was quietly the best overall player on the team. In the beginningof the year when he started doing that move where he drives to the middle of the lane with a jump hop and a double pump, I was wondering where and when he developed that bad habit. Last year Tyler had the luxury of two guards that drew the defense out andleft him a lot of room to make plays around the bucket. This year the defenses crowded the paint and it is just a lot to ask someone who is 6 foot 7 make things happen in that environment. Tyler displayed his NBA talent at several times this year. There are not really any bad things you can say about Tyler, he seemed to play as hard as he could every game and was a true competitor who you could tell hated losing. I really hope Tyler comes back next year.
Wayne Chism. I think Wayne has the best chance of all to play in the NBA. But like this team Wayne needs to find an identity, is he going to be a dominant center or is he going to be a big street baller? Now I love it as much as anyone when Chism drains a three, and it is very beneficial to a team to have a big guy do that. But you have to recognize what is going on in a game andyou have to realize when its not your day from beyond the arc. With a true shooter, sure you gotta shoot through a slump, but with Wayne if they don’t fall on Wednesday then stop and try again on Saturday. There were times this year when Wayne got mad and stepped up his intensity and he was a force on the floor, if he ever decides to play like that for 40 minutes the rest of the SEC could be in trouble. Also I hope Wayne comes back, I believe he already said he was but you never know until its done.
Scotty Hopson, are you glad he is here at Tennessee? I am ! Scotty had some pretty high expectations placed on his very young shoulders this year as a freshman. Scotty started off this year very very timid, all he wanted to do was throw up his signature rainbow three. The crowds were begging him to show us that McDonald’s All American scoring. But it didn’t happen, As the season progressed he starting driving to the bucket more and more but he had trouble making the shot. He also has to develop his ball handling skills, he lost the handle quiet a bit this year. The knock I have on Hopson is I wonder how bad he wants it, he seems slightly disinterested in the whole thing. I sure hope that changes
Bobby Maze, I feel sorry for Maze I don’t think he thought when he came here things would turn out like they did, was he the best point guard in the league? maybe we don’t really know, but was he the best point guard on our team? Yes. Okay I’m going to touch on this one more time, because I believe it is that important. Maze is a true PG. and as such you have to be on the floor, the PG is your quarterback the person who has to get a feel for the game, read the defense, recognize how your own players are playing, who is hot and who is not, This is extremely hard, if not impossible to do if you only play a little over half the game. Also when your teammates are constantly changing it makes it even more difficult. Last year Howell and Ramar split time in almost the exact same way and the Vols struggled at the point, so much so that Pearl got all loopy and decided it was a good idea to play Prince at the point in the sweet sixteen game. The last time we had a true PG it was CJ Watson and he played over 30 minutes per game. Unfortunately for Maze I don’t think things will change. Another comment I heard a lot this was we didn’t have any leadership at the point, what a laugh, leader means one.
Josh Tabb, well I don’t really know what to say about Tabb except to me he is like a player without a position. he is not a true PG, he was ok but not a true PG, he also does not have the slashing play making ability of a Prince, he is not tall enough to be a Fwd. So what does he bring, well according to everybody in the media he brings good defense, well my take is this, he is better on defense then he is on offense, but is the difference enough to sacrifice on offense to have his defense? My answer is no. I don’t feel the gap between him and Maze was that great. Tabb needs to find minutes elsewhere not at the point.
Cameron Tatum, another guy with a lot of offensive talent driving and slashing, but he also wanted to be the three point guy. Sure he can shoot from three but right now he is too inconsistent for that to be his first thought. he should use that athletic ability and drive it to the hoop. Tatum should get better next year, but he needs to play defense better.
Emmanuel Negedu, you know why everybody like Negedu? because he brings it every minute he is on the floor. Here is a guy who worked hard to get where he is and wants more. You can tell he values hard work. by far the person on the team that hustles the most. And fans love you for it.
Renaldo Woolridge. If looks counted this guy would be all SEC, he just looks like he should be a stud on the court. but like Tatum I think Woolridge wanted to be the 3 point guy, and he just couldntpull it off, However I do commend him on recognizing it and not throwing up in threes in his last couple of games. Hopefully he makes a lot of progress over the summer and is a major contributor next year.
Big baby Williams, now you talk about somebody who has it all right there for the taking. He has it all, size, hands, touch. But what is the difference, he doesn’t want it bad enough to play hard and consistant for 40 minutes. This guy has a opportunity to be loved by the fans.
So I think what is still yet to be determined is can Bruce Pearl coach a team that has Top Talent. Unfortunately I don’t think the Talented players are going to change, not the ones we presently have and not the ones that are yet to come he. I don’t think Bruce’s style is Talent friendly, by this I mean the entire system. Sure everybody wants to play a freestyle running and gunning type of play, but my key to this is that the Talent also wants to play a lot more minutes. they want to be on display for the scouts at the next level. I wonder what somebody like Tyreke Evans would have been like in our system. I personally don’t think it would have let him do what he has done at Memphis this year, I also wonder what Hopson would have done at MSU. I look at this a lot like I look at football, the days of not playing freshman and sophomores is long gone, if you want to grab the top players, you gotta let them play.
So what is the answer, do you start getting lower rated recruits so they can fit in your system? Heck no. So what then, well I think Bruce is going to have to evaluate all aspects of coaching a team at this level and figure out the changes that need to be made. We all know that he can coach a bunch of players who want to prove the world wrong and have the heart to lay it on the line every game and are willing to play his system. Also we all know he is a great marketer of our program, so lets hope he figures out the next level. Something has got to change in order to get Tennessee past the sweet sixteen. Because if things stay exactly the same Tennessee will win a few more games just on the fact that they will be one year older, but they will not be so good that we will be wowed. Also want to reiterate that I am not slamming this team or coach Pearl I am just observing that this team took a step back when everyone was thinking they should have taken a step forward. I believe coach Pearl can get the Vols were we wanna be but it will take some coaching and changes on his part
Come guys lets disscuss this I want some different viewpoints and tell me why Im wrong