No disrespect to Arkansas - the Hogs were a team coming off a 33 point loss to Texas, the Vols a team coming off a 20 point win against Memphis, a game they led by 36 at one point. Arkansas got a big game from Delvon Johnson, with 17 points and 3 huge blocks, and Rotnei Clarke did his thing by hitting 4 of 6 from the arc.
But the Vols were fittingly inconsistent for most of the afternoon, never able to put together any run or any three possession stretch of good basketball. On offense, turnovers were the culprit - 18 of them, which prevented the Vols from finding any sort of continuity in the halfcourt game. Tennessee had a huge size advantage on Arkansas, but often left the ball on the floor or threw it out of bounds before they could capitalize on it.
And while John Fields had a nice game off the bench with 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks, it's time to seriously question Brian Williams' offensive play. This should've been a day the Vols owned by being more physical and more productive inside. Instead, BWill had 2 points, went 0-3 at the line, and turned it over twice. The senior hasn't scored in double figures since the Oakland game, and while he has been a consistent rebounder, why can't we get any points out of him?
The Vols were also hurt by a rare Cameron Tatum disappearance: zero points on 0-4 shooting. Scotty Hopson tried to pick up the slack with 15 points and 3-5 from the arc, but turned it over 4 times. This may be becoming more and more a team that relies on Tobias Harris, and maybe it should be - Tony Jones had his guys go to the freshman repeatedly down the stretch, and though he missed the game winner (an open look at the end of a discombobulated possession, in part because Jones had burned through all of UT's timeouts with three minutes still left...he'll learn), Tobias still had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
But when turnovers weren't causing problems offensively, a lack of focus on the defensive end kept Arkansas in front. The Hogs repeatedly took advantage of overly agressive play from UT's post players, who jumped out to help in penetration and left the backdoor wide open for a number of oops down the stretch. Tennessee shut the door on good teams and locked it behind them against Pittsburgh and Villanova, holding both below 40% from the field. Today the Hogs - last seen scoring 46 points against Texas - shot an even 50.0% from the floor.
The Vols were close thanks to a late run, and they played hard and never quit on Tony Jones...but reality suggests that Arkansas goes in the file with Charlotte, and USC: close losses against inferior competition. The Vols still can't convert on the last shot, but in each of those games (as well as Belmont and UT-Martin when it did end right), they shouldn't have needed the last shot to get it done.
Reality also suggests, and strongly so, that Tennessee is a 10-5 team with a number of bad losses on its resume. The next four games - vs Florida, vs Vanderbilt, at Georgia, at UConn - are against teams that don't go in the inferior opponent file. Does that mean the Vols will automatically play better, as history has shown? Or does that mean that more hard times are ahead?
It's frightening to say, but Tennessee's season could be over in two weeks. If one loss turns into another slide, and Tennessee can't find a win in the next two weeks? Right now we're talking about the bubble. We could be talking about the NIT before Pearl has a chance to get back on the bench (which is not to suggest that any of this is Tony Jones' fault).
We're used to winning, and right now we're not doing it. It's incredibly frustrating for everyone involved with the program. But don't give up on this team. I have no idea what's going to happen, but I know the Vols need all the support they can get at home against Florida and Vanderbilt next week. And though it's incredibly frustrating to see the Vols play down to the level of their competition, if better competition means better play for the boys in orange, we'll take all the help we can get next week.
Tennessee is inconsistent. Fifteen games into the season, it's not an annoying trait...right now, it's our identity. This team is also talented enough to take care of their own destiny. So what will we do? Will we fold in the face of adversity? Will we rally and make a run the next two weeks against good teams? Or will we continue to be hot and cold, a different story every night?
The Vols need every win they can get. Whatever it takes, there are none more important than Tuesday night against the Gators, when Tony Jones and the Vols will try again.