...unless we see him in the SEC Tournament. If you assume Kentucky is going to win this thing, the Vols need to finish 7th or higher in the league, or any hopes of advancing in New Orleans will have to go through the Cats in the quarterfinals.
And pretty much nothing goes through Anthony Davis. This would be an impressive stat line by itself: 18 points on 6 of 7 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 assists. But it's the blocked shots - seven of them tonight - that separate him from anyone else I've seen. Even Jarvis Varnado wasn't as smart about it as Davis is. Tennessee shooting 28.1% from the floor isn't a total shocker, we all know we're not the most potent offensive ballclub. But the way it happened tonight was that Davis and Kentucky affected almost every single shot the Vols took inside the paint. Cameron Tatum was aggressive getting to the basket and did lead the team in assists, but went 0 for 7. Josh Richardson was 0 for 5. And Jarnell Stokes and Kenny Hall got no love from the rims or the referees, going 2 for 9 and 0 for 3 respectively.
Jeronne Maymon worked incredibly hard for everything he got, which was 13 points. But here's part of the problem too: he went five of six at the line. Trae Golden was 0-1. No one else shot a free throw.
And look, we can do the thing everybody does when they go to Rupp Arena and question why Kentucky shot twenty more free throws than we did, but reality is the Vols struggle to get to the line against everybody. It's something to watch both for now and for later: how does a team that has both Maymon and Stokes go to the line so little? What can the Vols do to be more aggressive?
Tonight was Kentucky's night in almost every way. I mean, when you make your first eleven shots, life is pretty good. If not for Renaldo Woolridge turning into Larry Bird in the first half, the Vols are down thirty at halftime. That bunch in platinum is real good and number one for a reason, so let's not read too much into this loss.
The good news for Tennessee is that tomorrow the calendar will read February. The Vols came out of January one game better than we thought they would, upsetting Florida and UConn but falling at Georgia in overtime. At 10-12 (2-5), the goal remains NIT eligibility which requires a 6-3 finish against a much lighter load. And the real goal is continued improvement, which is awfully hard to see in Rupp. This team needs to take a deep breath and put this game and this month behind them, and then attack February and get on a run that is very much there to be had. The next two games are in Knoxville against Georgia and South Carolina, which should help the Vols get off to a good start from here.
A tip of the cap to the Wildcats. Tennessee can be much better the next time they play in Rupp Arena. But to get there, improvement needs to start now. There is much still to play for, and if a run is to be made, it has to start right now.