Since these games happened in such close proximity, and I couldn’t watch the VCU game, I’ve decided to make this edition of Three Things about both games that occurred this weekend.
Tennessee split in its trip to Florida by losing 57-60 to Florida State and winning the consolation game against VCU 72-69. Here are three things.
LAMONTE TURNER IS A COLD-BLOODED KILLER
Turner led the team in scoring against FSU by dropping 20 points (even though he shot just 4-14 from the field) and followed that performance by hitting the game winner against VCU. Sometimes, when a player hits a game-winning shot, it’s technically a game winner because it’s the shot that won the game. But there’s still time on the clock, and the other team will get a look and miss. Hyperbolic analogy for comparison purposes:
Let’s say a player hits a shot in a tie game, and there’s 10 minutes left in the game. Neither team hits another shot, so that player who hit the last shot for the team that won gets credit for a game-winning shot. These game-winning shots are as lame as hitting a game-winning shot can be.
Lamonte Turner’s shot was a REAL game winner. The shot went in and the game clock expired. It contained all the high-level drama that game-winning shots deserve.
Turner is a bad man. I’ve never been more intimidated by a guy with braces.
THE FLORIDA STATE GAME WAS REAL BAD
Tennessee played its worst game of the season against Florida State. It was U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, ugly. But, Tennessee lost the game by three points. As a Vols football fan, I’m well-versed in moral victories and finding the bright side of shitty situations. Playing by far the worst game of the season and losing by three points is a bright side. But bright-side aside, Tennessee did the things that teams do when they lose games. They shot poorly, turned the ball over and fouled a bunch.
Turner scored 20 points even though he hit just four of the 14 shots he took. That 35 percent FG percentage was second-best on the team behind the 50 percent from Yves Pons and John Fulkerson.
As a team, Tennessee shot 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point distance. It was the worst shooting performance for the Vols this season, and somehow it wasn’t the most troubling statistic from the game.
Tennessee turned the ball over 21 times against the Seminoles. It’s been a while since the Vols played such a sloppy game. In fact, the last time Tennessee played a game with more than 20 turnovers was in 2016-17. The Vols had two such games that year and lost both of them. That’s not a coincidence — turning the ball over is one of the most sure-fire ways to lose games. You’re literally handing the other team extra possessions, and extra possessions = chances for extra points.
The Vols also set a new season high for personal fouls with 20. In Tennessee’s six losses last season, it eclipsed the 20-foul mark four times. This, too, is not a coincidence. Some fouls result in extra possessions for the other team, some fouls result in extra points for the other team and all fouls count against the individual player’s total, and once that player hits five fouls he can’t play anymore. Fulkerson had five, Josiah James had four, Jordan Bowden had three and almost everyone else on the team chipped in with two fouls. Jalen Johnson and Davonte Gaines were the only two Vols who played and didn’t commit a foul. Tennessee faces a particular disadvantage in this situation because it really can’t afford its starters to get into foul trouble and can’t count on the bench to carry water (unless that water happens to be running downhill).
CAN WE BENCH THE BENCH
The production from Tennessee’s bench players in tough games this season has been less than stellar. Against Washington and Florida State, the two best teams Tennessee has faced, the bench combined for five points in 53 minutes on 16 percent shooting with five turnovers and five fouls. In the other five games, against inferior competition, the bench averaged 16.6 points on 48 percent shooting with 1.6 turnovers and 4.2 fouls per game. That’s quite the discrepancy.
Part of it, I think, is a talent issue. In other circumstances, freshmen Gaines and Drew Pember would have been redshirted with fellow-freshman Olivier Nkamhoua likely playing sparingly in a situational-type role. Unfortunately, Tennessee does not have that luxury. I’m not saying those guys aren’t or won’t be good basketball players, but I am saying that they’re probably playing before they’re ready.
Let’s breakdown what has put the Vols in this rather precarious predicament.
In 2015, Tennessee enrolled five players: F/C Kyle Alexander, F Ray Kasongo, G Shembari Phillips, G Lamonte Turner and F Admiral Schofield. All five players had three-star ratings.
Turner is still on the team. Alexander and Schofield are in the NBA. Kasongo transferred to Iowa State, left there without playing a game and I couldn’t find any other information about him. Phillips transferred to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets but hasn’t created much... buzz...
In 2016, Tennessee enrolled six players: G Jordan Bone, G Jordan Bowden, G/F Jalen Johnson, F John Fulkerson, G Kwe Parker and F Grant Williams. All six players had three-star ratings.
Bowden, Fulkerson and Johnson are still on the team. Williams and Bone are in the NBA, and Kwe Parker transferred to North Carolina A&T.
In 2017, Tennessee enrolled four players: G Chris Darrington, F Yves Pons, F Zach Kent and F Derrick Walker. All four players had three-star ratings.
Pons is still on the team. Kent recently left the program for undisclosed reasons. Darrington was a junior college transfer and played out his one remaining season of eligibility. Walker transferred to Nebraska.
In 2018, Tennessee enrolled one player: F/C DJ Burns. Burns was the first four-star recruit for Rick Barnes at Tennessee. Burns transferred to Winthrop in the offseason,
In 2019, Tennessee enrolled six players: Josiah James, Davonte Gaines, Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pember, Victor Bailey and Uros Plavsic. James is the first five-star recruit for Barnes at Tennessee, Bailey and Plavsic are ineligible to play this season and all six are still on the team.
So, since 2015, of the 20 incoming players, Tennessee lost 6 to transfer (counting Kent even though I’m not sure what’s going on there). Nine of those 20 are still on team and four of them are starters.
I don’t know how typical or atypical those number are for major college basketball programs, but I’d guess they’re about average. It looks like Jalen Johnson might have been a recruiting miss — he’s a junior struggling to get minutes on a team with several freshmen. DJ Burns and Derrick Walker are the two that stand out. If they were instead players who stayed and became productive, they would be hugely valuable to this team that desperately needs warms bodies in the post.
Against Florida State, we saw a dangerous glimpse of how low the floor goes for this team. When they’re bad, they struggle to score, rebound and take care of the basketball. Let’s hope we don’t see much of that floor.