After a two week break for final exams the basketball Vols are back in action tomorrow at #18 Butler. The break was made especially long by Tennessee's outcome in Brooklyn: a close call against now 8-1 George Washington, then an 11 point loss to Nebraska. The Vols' weaknesses in the interior were exposed in both games, and in the interim pseudo-post Jabari McGhee transferred out of the program.
George Washington's only loss came in the Brooklyn final to #23 Cincinnati, and Cincinnati's only loss came against #18 Butler. The Bulldogs' only loss came to #17 Miami; Butler is currently 27th in KenPom and running the nation's eighth best offense by their metrics.
Last year the Bulldogs came into Knoxville ranked 15th, but Donnie Tyndall's Vols used a 42-18 close to stun Butler 67-55. Tennessee shot 50% from the field and turned Butler over 14 times, six of them steals from Josh Richardson. If you haven't seen the Vols yet this season they're playing a very different brand of basketball, one far more likely to win by scoring 95 than by holding the opposition to 55, and obviously are without Richardson as a difference maker. Saturday they'll not only be playing their first game without McGhee, but will also be without Robert Hubbs as he recovers from a knee scope.
Hubbs is one of four upperclassman Vols averaging more than 30 minutes per game, but those numbers could come more into balance as Tennessee's youth evolves. Rick Barnes, who speaks openly and honestly about these Vols, said as much if the Vols continue to struggle:
Rick Barnes: "If you're gonna lose, you're gonna lose with young guys."— Troy Provost-Heron (@Troy_Provost) December 1, 2015
Struggle may be the expectation this weekend. The Bulldogs won't be shy about playing fast the way Tennessee wants to, and this is another bunch of upperclassmen who will test the Vols in a number of ways. Guard Kellen Dunham is averaging 20 points per game and shooting 43.6% from the arc. Dunham at 6'6" joins the team's five leading scorers that go between 6'6" and 6'8". Roosevelt Jones is their do everything guy, averaging 12.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. The Bulldogs shoot 52% from the floor on the year, seventh best in college basketball right now, and have scored 85+ five different times this year.
Tennessee's defense is obviously not a strength, but allowing offensive rebounds has been perhaps their biggest issue. This is in part of function of defense in being out of position when shots go up, and in part a function of inexperience in the post. UT's defensive rebounding percentage ranks 284th nationally, a bad match with Butler's 41st ranked offensive rebounding percentage.
Some of these things won't get all the way fixed this year, and we all know that. But I'm curious to see what adjustments the Vols have made in their two weeks off, stepping onto their biggest stage of the year thus far in Indianapolis. The Vols have been competitive every night except in the Nebraska game. We'll see if that trend continues against the best team the Vols have faced so far. Tennessee and #18 Butler collide Saturday at 2:30 PM on Fox Sports 1.