So, in almost every one of our basketball previews, we say something like, "If the Vols defend the way they're capable of defending, we'll have a chance to win."
Tonight is what happens when you don't defend that way. Tennessee didn't defend well against Memphis in what we wrote off as hot shooting. Memphis is super talented, and the Vols did fight back and almost won.
Ole Miss was 11-2 but had played no one. Not sure how much tonight will change that opinion if we keep playing defense this way, but you could tell the Rebels played with way, way more to prove. Ole Miss jumped the Vols early, as did Memphis, and though the lead never pushed past 15 until the final minutes, every Tennessee run was immediately avalanched. When the Vols cut it to five with more than twelve minutes still to play, the Rebels answered with a 14-3 run. When Tennessee cut it to eight later on, the Rebels buried the threat for good.
Ole Miss became the second team in a row to score 80+ on the Vols where the previous 24 opponents had failed. The 92 Ole Miss scored is the most Cuonzo's Vols have ever given up in regulation. They got every important rebound, an effort aided by sending UT's players to the bench with foul trouble: Kenny Hall fouled out with a goose egg, Trae Golden was soon to follow, and Tennessee's offense was basically Jordan McRae and not much else. Jarnell Stokes had a good game in the box score, but it was too little with no help inside.
The Rebels only made four threes, but they all hurt. Marshall Henderson was Kobe-esque with 32 points on 19 shots, but still the Vols should be embarrassed about giving that up to any one player. Henderson disrespected the Vols on their home floor, and the Vols let it happen.
I don't know what happened to our defense. I do know that at 8-5 with consecutive home losses, we've got problems. And we get to go to Tuscaloosa and Lexington next to try to solve them. It was this time last year when the Vols turned everything around and started playing lockdown defense. But the last two nights, that defense appears to have abandoned them.
Now is not the time to talk about March. This team has problems that need to get fixed in January and an identity it needs to discover before things will get any better. Because tonight was an embarrassing display for all involved with Tennessee Basketball, and another large coaching challenge appears to now be before Cuonzo Martin. There will always be a host of offensive problems with this particular group. But if we don't defend, we are clearly not competitive against anyone with a pulse. I'm eager to see how Cuonzo and the Vols respond.