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Three Things: Washington

Lots of positives.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Tennessee Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee led for about 38 of 40 game-time minutes and beat Washington 75-62. Here are three things.


The Vols made 15 baskets in the first half and had 15 assists, which obviously means they had an assist on each of the baskets they made. You want assists on scores because, in theory, that means the team is passing the ball. Assists can be interpreted as markers for good, efficient offensive basketball, and I’m not a big math guy, but assists on 100 percent of made baskets is good. In the second half, Tennessee notched just four assists on 10 made baskets. That’s, uhh, less good.

So far this season, Tennessee ranks seventh in the NCAA averaging 0.678 assists per field goal made and 13th in the NCAA with 19.7 assists per game. Last year, Tennessee ranked fifth in the county with 17.7 assists per game and lost just six games on the year. They had 14 assists or fewer in four of those six games.

Big picture: keeping an eye on the Vols’ assist numbers should give some decent insight into how well the offense is clicking. Now, that doesn’t mean if the Vols don’t tally a bunch of assists that they’re not scoring the ball. (BONUS WRITER POINTS TO ME FOR ACHIEVING THE EVER-ELUSIVE QUADRUPLE NEGATIVE) Assists are just one piece of the puzzle, and sometimes you can just give the ball to Jordan Bowden and ask him to go get you a bucket, efficiency and assists be damned.


This Tennessee team is very different from last year’s Tennessee team. There’s a bunch of guys gone, a bunch of new guys here, and almost everybody that returned from last year has a different role than they had last season.

Last season, Turner was a spark plug. He was instant energy and offense in a mostly complementary capacity. By the end of the year, he was maybe the team’s best on-ball defender, too. But this season he’s the starting point guard, and with that comes a new world of expectations.

The evolution is very much a work-in-progress. Turner looks brilliant at times but lost in others, and while consistency has never really been his forte, inconsistency isn’t a trait that good teams feature at the point guard position.

It doesn’t much help that he’s playing a role not best suited to his skills. Turner has always struck me as a “shoot first and apologize later,” kind-of dude, and against Washington it looked like he was hesitating to shoot good shots with hopes of passing to find a better one.

All around, he had a good game against the Huskies. He had 16 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals, but nine of his points came from the FT line and the majority of those came in the trudge through the game’s final few minutes. He hit just one of his five 3-point attempts and went 3-12 from the field overall.

ALSO — he had six turnovers that muddy up an otherwise sparkling box score. That was his second six-turnover game in three chances, though he sandwiched a pristine 14-assist, zero-turnover performance in the middle against Murray State.

Even though he’s mired in a shooting slump — 36 percent overall and sub-20 percent from 3-point range — he’s a good enough career shooter, 40-percent overall, 35-percent from 3, for us to reasonably expect an uptick in his shot-making.

It’s harder to predict what his turnover numbers will do because even though he’s averaged just 1.47 turnovers in 25.67 minutes for his career, he’s handling the ball much more than he has in any of his prior seasons.

With time, some of the hesitation we’re seeing will likely dissipate as he gets a better feel for the new position, and less hesitation usually makes for better play.


James came to Tennessee as the first McDonald’s All-American player since Tobias Harris in 2010-11, and for quite some time now, the five-star recruit has been going up and down on NBA mock drafts in the largely arbitrary exercise of predicting the outcome of a draft that’s 12 months away based on the performance of somebody who hadn’t played a minute of basketball beyond the high-school level.

Please forgive my digression and extremely run-on sentence. The original point was, I think, that James had/ still has some lofty expectations, and just like everybody else, he’ll mature at his own pace. (For the record, the title of this section is satirical and intended to be maybe slightly humorous.)

Sure, it’s been an inauspicious start for the young guard, but that’s certainly no reason to panic. It’s a long season.

Saturday, the Huskies upped the on-ball pressure when James was running the offense. They picked him up at half-court and guarded him tightly, hoping to induce a panicked response. But for the most-part, James remained composed.

I like Twitter-friend Reed’s phrasing here. “Settling in,” is exactly what’s happening. Game by game, it looks like things are slowing down for the freshman. What was foreign is becoming familiar and what was uncomfortable is becoming status-quo. No matter how highly somebody is ranked, the game is faster, the players are faster and the progression from high school to college is an adjustment.

James had statistically his best game so far against Washington. He shot 4-4 from the field, including 1-1 from behind the 3-point line, had nine points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals. I don’t envision him being the offense’s main scoring threat, but his shooting performance against the Huskies bodes well for his development and provides a glimpse of what the rest of the season may hold.


Yves Pons has yet to return to Earth — he and his statistically-gaudy numbers continue to orbit in space, circling all of our mortal souls. . . and I think I hear something. Do you hear it? No?

Well, it’s Pons. He mocks me for suggesting he wouldn’t keep up such a blistering offensive pace.

In my defense, the numbers were and still are on my side. He made seven 3s all of last year and had more than one 3 just one time (he made two against Eastern Kentucky). He’s got five made 3s in three games so far this year.

The Stepien dot com

That’s the break down of last year’s shooting numbers. The figures are decent altogether but bad from beyond the arc. Pons doesn’t care about your charts or my charts or anybody’s charts. He’s charting a new path.

Against Washington, Pons made the soft-middle of the Huskies’ zone his home. That’s his zone now. Please send all of your fan mail there to insure proper delivery. He got the ball at the elbow and was content with taking the open shot. He and Fulkerson combined for 29 points on 21 attempts and provided grease for the wheels of Tennessee’s offense with points and facilitation from the weak spot in Washington’s 2-3 zone defense.

And here’s the video of his absurd block for no reason other than to marvel in admiration.

If you, too, have previously doubted Pons and the stability of his offensive numbers, you may repent now and save your soul by performing 35 Rocky-Top Hail Marys at sunset.

Pons, if you’re reading this, I don’t expect you to return to us anytime soon. But, in the meantime, I have questions:

Is it cold in space? I’ve heard it is. Are you hungry, or have you evolved past the point of needing food for sustenance? Is it lonely up there on your tower of magnificence?