Vols' Slow Starts Largely To Blame For Bubble Talk

The Tennessee Volunteers have only four regular season games to ensure an invite to the NCAA Tournament, and they need to get started with a good game against Vanderbilt tonight. There is little doubt that the Commodores have the edge. They're on a five-game winning streak. They've won eight of their last ten. They're 20-6 overall, 8-4 in the conference, #18 in the AP, #17 in the RPI, and they have the nation's 21st best schedule. Their home court is the basketball equivalent of a tilting ball maze, and coach Pearl will, for half of the game at Memorial Gymnasium, be so far away from the action that he might as well communicate via papyrus and carrier pigeon.

And the Vols, well, the Vols have issues. There are many, including the disappearing act of some of the team's role players, but one we haven't talked a lot about is Tennessee's tendency dig itself big holes early. Have a look at the game flow of several of the Vols' losses:

 

As you can see from those charts, Tennessee has allowed its opponent to go up by 10 points or more in the first half in nearly half of its losses:

  • Tennessee spotted USC a ten-point lead at the 8:33 mark of the first half.
  • College of Charleston was up 37-18 with 8:46 to play in the first half.
  • Alabama was ahead by 10 with 2:03 left in the first half.
  • Kentucky was up 33-14 with 5:51 left in the first half.
  • Halfway through the first half of the second game against Georgia, the Bulldogs were up 22-7.

To make matters more frustrating, more than half of those near-blowouts actually ended up as only one- or two-possession losses.

 

Opponent Score MOL
USC 64-65 1
College of Charleston 78-91 13
Alabama 60-65 5
Kentucky 61-73 12
Georgia 63-69 6

 

Conclusion? Don't dig holes against USC, Alabama, or Georgia, and you win those games. The team would be 19-8 and almost certainly a lock to the NCAA Tournament. As it is, digging early holes unearths bubbles.

Advice? Don't do that tonight against Vanderbilt. It may not matter because the Commodores could win even if the game is tight the entire way, but to have a shot, the Vols need to leave their shovels at home.

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