...or at least gives you the opportunity to play for them.
In a matchup that had most anticipating a shootout, the Vols used an outstanding 40-minute defensive effort to hold VCU to 30.9% shooting. That number was enough to keep the Vols in front the whole way after it was tied at 41-41 early in the second half, despite a less than stellar offensive performance of our own (41.8% from the floor, 64.3% from the line). The Vols used a script that's already becoming familiar: get most of your offense from your two best players, and let your best big man dominate on the glass. Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson would probably both tell you they struggled tonight, but Hopson had 18 and got in the paint whenever he wanted, and Harris added 15 of his own. Brian Williams again struggled on offense (but did knock down big free throws), but ripped down 14 rebounds to help the Vols go +6 on the glass.
You wouldn't have thought them to be the calling cards of this team, but so far the Vols have proved they can play great halfcourt defense, and can knock down free throws at the end of the game. VCU's Brandon Rozzell kept them in it by going 6 of 11 from the arc, and there were a couple of tense moments as 8 of VCU's 11 threes came in the second half, but the Vols always had an answer, usually at the free throw line.
The offense is still coming together...but that's a scary thought with the Vols at 4-0. If Tobias and Scotty are ever both locked in on the same night, we're going to be very good; we're already good enough to get it done when they shoot a combined 11 of 28. We're still growing, of course, but the defensive performance from the entire team tonight was very, very good, and a strong sign of the maturity that already exists on this team.
The Vols get the winner of #7 Villanova vs. UCLA, and will play Friday at 5:00 PM. Again: Tennessee hasn't won a tournament of any kind since the Rainbow Classic in 2000. If it's Nova, our RPI will appreciate the opportunity, and we'll learn a lot more about exactly how good we are right now. But the signs are there that, whether now or later, this team can eventually be very, very good.