USA TODAY Sports
A ten-point loss to Kentucky reveals that, Jordan McRae aside, the Vols have some work to do to get back on track.
The Tennessee Volunteers lost to the Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena, 75-65. The end result is not really a surprise. The problem is that this game was actually much closer than the final score suggests, and if it were not for some really frustrating factors, it was definitely winnable. And yet it somehow turned out as a double digit loss.
First, let's give credit to the 'Cats. Anthony Davis is gone, but Nerlens Noel is as frustrating to shoot around as the Unibrow. The guy with the funny first name finished the game with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocked shots, 4 steals, 2 assists, and my undying hatred of his image. Still, that's pretty strong even if you're not wearing my colors.
And to complement Kid N Play, Kentucky has Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays to stretch defenses and a host of other talented guys. So yeah, props to them.
Pause for mouthwash.
Pause for more mouthwash.
Okay, now let's talk about the Vols.There seems to be some real potential on this team, but that real potential seems to be regularly squandered by the really frustrating.
How is it that the team can miss so many shots right at the rim?
How is it that the point guard -- the team's ball handler -- can regularly give up turnovers on fast breaks, this evening to the tune of 5 total TOs? (Coach Martin thought Trae Golden did so well in the first half that he started him in the second, though, so what do I know? Maybe Golden's defense makes up for it.)
And perhaps it's time to relieve Jarnell Stokes of the lofty expectations we have had of him and instead let him grow into his game like a normal player. Every time he touches the ball, we expect great things, but it's just not happening. He had four points tonight and fouled out. He has legitimate challenges. Because of his reputation, he's routinely getting double- and triple-teamed, and he just hasn't figured it out yet. Too often, he forces a bad shot. I think he's getting there -- there were at least two instances I can recall from tonight's game where he passed to an open teammate for a great assist. Once he figures out how to handle the extra defenders and the extra attention, he'll be the monster we all know he can be. But not yet.
Now for a bit of good news. Jordan McRae is tearing it up and probably needs to be our go-to guy from this point forward. Huh. I just typed the phrase point forward. It's a sign!
Anyway, McRae led all scorers by a huge margin this evening with 23, and he was simply the most consistent guy on the floor. Nobody else even hit double figures. Good things happened when McRae had the ball.
Like I said before, this game was much closer than the score indicates, and even with all of the problems (we'll go ahead and mention that the officiating was a problem as well, just for posterity), it was close throughout, and Tennessee could have won. That provides some hope for the rest of the season.
But the Vols drop to 8-7 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, and while there's still a lot of season left, this team has a lot of work to do.