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Tennessee Basketball First Impressions

Remember those promos they usually run in Thompson-Boling where if the Vols score 90 or more you get a free something?

I'm not sure when you're going to see 90 again.  And I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Cuonzo Martin's Missouri State team got there once last year, once the year before thanks to overtime.  That's it.  But they were successful with defense and effort, and at times tonight, you could see this Tennessee team following that blueprint.

It was an exhibition game, one the Vols won 73-52 over Carson-Newman, and I usually put zero stock in exhibition games.  But since this was our first look at Cuonzo's Vols, here are a couple of very, very early impressions:

  • You can see motion concepts on offense, but it's not all there and may not be this season.  Carson-Newman came out in zone, and the Vols went to the three point line.  The Vols shook off a cold start to actually finish at 38% in the first half.  Tennessee ended the game at 10 of 31 from the arc, with two of those taken (and missed) by walk-ons.  Martin said in his postgame show he thought the Vols settled for threes instead of going inside as much as they should have, but I'm curious to see how often that happens again.  The point is, early in the game the Vols had disciplined, quick ball movement, especially on the perimeter.  Several possessions had literally no dribbles once the Vols got set up, working the ball around and looking for a good shot, which ended up being a three more often than not.  As the game wore on, the Vols either became less disciplined, or realized they were playing Carson-Newman and most in white could get to the hole anyway.  I liked the ball movement and the discipline when it was present.  The more we excel at that, the less we'll need guys to create their own shots...cause I'm not sure how many of those guys we have.
  • What does it mean that the two players we thought we'd rely on most played some of the fewest minutes?  If you saw the game, it wasn't because we were saving them.  Cameron Tatum had eight points, four turnovers, and zero assists in sixteen minutes.  Kenny Hall had four points and six rebounds in fifteen minutes.  Meanwhile, Jeronne Maymon led the way with twenty-seven minutes, ten points, four assists, and fifteen rebounds (seven offensive).  He's in significantly better shape than what we saw last season, and if the Vols continue to shoot that many threes, his work on the backside offensive glass will be huge for us.  Jordan McRae took the most shots by far at fourteen, but led the Vols with seventeen points.  How much of that was in the gameplan?  Is the the leading scorer?  Tonight was much more about McRae and Maymon than Tatum and Hall.  Keep an eye on it.
  • You're going to enjoy our point guards.  Trae Golden looked much more in control as a sophomore, with fourteen points, five assists, and only one turnover.  And true freshman Wes Washpun didn't fill up the stat sheet, but that kid is quick on both ends, with and without the ball, and can leap.  That could be a very solid combo for the Vols at the one this season.
  • The pressure is there.  Carson-Newman shot 31.4% for the game and just 16.7% in the second half.  The Vols forced and gave away twenty-two turnovers; our part has to be cleaned up, but the defensive effort is very much there.  The Vols will pick up man-to-man defensively with all five players, all over the floor.  I thought they communicated better than I expected to see from a team with a new coach and rotations that have never played together before.  If Tennessee keeps bringing that effort defensively, the Vols are going to be in games.  They may be "ugly" and low scoring, but we can be there with this talent and this effort.