As Volundore pointed out in the comments after the big win over Ole Miss, Tennessee’s remaining schedule now breaks into a much more manageable rhythm:
Tennessee Remaining Schedule
|Sat Feb 11
|Tue Feb 14
|Sat Feb 18
|Wed Feb 22
|Sat Feb 25
|at South Carolina
|Wed Mar 1
|Sat Mar 4
So we’ve got important game, free opportunity on the road, bottom of the SEC, rinse, repeat. This should give us a break from the pressure, real and imagined, of thinking every game is a must-win for the Vols on the bubble.
But it starts with another one of those important ones tomorrow.
Georgia might be the best example of how thin the margin is in this conference these days. On January 17 the Dawgs beat Vanderbilt to go to 12-6 (4-2). They had a Top 40 RPI and were in brackets aplenty. Then they lost at Texas A&M by one, were shockingly blown out at home by Alabama, took Kentucky to overtime in Rupp before falling, lost at South Carolina by two, and lost to Florida 72-60 on Tuesday. That’s five straight SEC losses, four to the league’s top four teams, and only a win over Rick Barnes’ former squad from Texas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to break up the streak. Now they’re 13-11 (4-7) and alone in 12th place. They’ve been close with almost everyone, but they are teetering.
The Yante Maten/J.J. Frazier combo we’ve known and loved for the last three years is still going strong, getting 19.7 and 16.0 a night respectively. But Georgia’s production drops off sharply from there. The Dawgs are more likely to get it done on the defensive end, where they’re 28th nationally in KenPom’s ratings and second in field goal percentage allowed in the SEC.
Tennessee’s strength is now bending that direction as well. The Vols are 56th in KenPom offense and 38th in defense. In SEC play Tennessee is fifth in field goal percentage allowed and the third best team in the league at defending the three (32.4%). You might also be surprised to learn, as was I, that the Vols are now 13th in the SEC in threes attempted themselves, taking just 16.7 per game. Barnes has done a good job keeping a young team within the structure of his offense, and as a result Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner both shoot 38% from the arc in league play and Admiral Schofield is 9-of-16.
It was Tennessee’s best players who locked it up against Ole Miss, a welcome sign for a less-than-100% Robert Hubbs and a still-maturing Grant Williams. But both players are also a function of the flow of the entire offense. And the Vols have quietly become one of the SEC’s best at sharing the basketball.
In the 10 losses the Vols have 106 assists and 152 turnovers, and only had a positive ratio in three of those games. But in Tennessee’s last six wins dating back to the Vanderbilt game, the Vols have 104 assists and only 56 turnovers. That’s some serious clean-up.
We said earlier this week much of Tennessee’s fate would come down to what it did in four home games against Ole Miss, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Alabama. So far they’re 1-for-1. Getting to 2-for-2 would firm up their spot on the bubble and send the Vols to Lexington with only opportunity in front of them.
4:00 PM ET, ESPNU. We need wins.