Nothing is going to be easy for the Tennessee Volunteers basketball team this year. The final margin against Gardner-Webb might've been 89-64, but the game didn't feel like a win of that margin. That's what happens when Gardner-Webb led halfway through the second half and was functionally within a two-score range until five minutes to go. Give Tennessee credit for slamming on the gas late to make it look like more of a blowout than it was, but the usual hot-cold-hot-cold-hot streaks we've seen in pretty much every game so far. There's potential there to make noise, but they could both lose to and beat anyone on their schedule the rest of the way. We didn't learn anything new on that front.
The usual suspects were the usual suspects: Kevin Punter had 24 on 13 shots, Armani Moore had 15 on 11 shots (and 16 boards to boot), and Robert Hubbs III had 17 on 14 shots. Devon Baulkman, on the other hand, was a revelation with 22 on 14 shots. Going forward, seeing if Baullkman can build on this game and turn into a fourth major contributor will be huge for Tennessee. Until then, they're still three deep; depth concerns are real.
The Vols will go as far as the Punter, Hubbs, and Moore trio will take them. Gardner-Webb made significant noise when one of those three was on the bench; if that's happening with a team of their talent level, it's going to be tough going when the talent level of Tennessee's opponents go up. The biggest challenge going forward: finding a fourth legitimate, SEC-level starter (Baulkman's 5/9 from beyond the arc is a good start), then finding a fifth, then finding a bench that won't hemorrhage points. It's not going to be easy.
That, coupled with the boom-or-bust tendencies this team is going to be thriving (or dying) on, means they're at least going to be entertaining. Will they be good? The best way to answer that right now is this: if they get an invitation to a postseason tournament-any postseason tournament-they should take it.
This team is going to struggle; that's going to happen when you have three head coaches in three seasons. If anyone should know that, it's us. Be patient.
Army is next up on Tuesday. Expect more of the same.