These days it’s really tough to find much wrong with the Tennessee basketball program. Rick Barnes’ crew has demolished Georgia and Missouri to open SEC play, bring their overall record to 13-1. Guys like Jordan Bowden and Kyle Alexander have seen the light come on in recent games, making Tennessee just that much more dangerous.
However, as Bowden and Alexander have stepped up, sophomore wing Yves Pons has taken a bit of a backseat. Despite starting, Pons only saw nine minutes against Missouri on Tuesday night. In his last four games, Pons has only registered 11 points and five rebounds in total.
“I think he’s struggling a bit,” Barnes said of Pons ahead of the Florida matchup. “Again, he’s one of those players where it means so much to him that I sometimes you can get yourself wound up too tight. I think Yves is there.”
Pons isn’t a guy that’s going to light up the scoring column, but he was inserted into the starting lineup for a reason. His ability on the defensive end, along with his aggressiveness on the boards really seemed to give Tennessee a boost in the month of December. Through two SEC games, Pons has yet to even register a rebound.
“He’s young to the game, but these are things that you have to go through when you’re young,” Barnes said. “We’re going to continue to have the confidence that we need in him, but he is going to have to get that within himself. It goes back to if he’s willing to hang his hat on playing great defense — rebound and let the offense work for you instead of trying to make the offense work.”
This is where Barnes shines, in my opinion. He typically knows which strings to pull with each different player. For Pons, Barnes is pointing towards the recent breakout of Jordan Bowden in an attempt to get Pons more confident in the offensive system.
“I actually sat down with him and showed him on paper that believe it or not he’s shooting a higher percentage from three than Jordan Bowden,” Barnes said. “I showed him how Jordan Bowden has been scoring points, and it had nothing to do with shooting the ball. It had to do with understanding the offense, understanding where those opportunities would come and not putting yourself in trouble by just dribbling the ball to dribble it.”
Bowden has back to back 20 point games, thanks in large part to playing defense and getting out and running in transition. He’s been doing his damage at the rim, and we know Pons can certainly operate in that capacity.
Pons, of course, replaced Bowden in the starting lineup in the early part of the season. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes, but it doesn’t really matter. Barnes opted to go with a smaller lineup against Missouri to jumpstart things and it clearly worked. There will be games where a bigger lineup is the way to go. Point is, Tennessee has options.
With Pons being as raw as he is, you’re going to have these bumps in the road. Let’s see if Barnes can jolt yet another role player out of a slump.