Remember last year when Tennessee needed a bucket? They threw it in to Grant Williams, who went to work and typically found the bottom of the net. They got the ball to Lamonte Turner late, who — for better or worse — had no fear as a shooter. They had Admiral Schofield, who bullied his way to the bucket.
One of the concerns with losing all of those starters from last year’s team was who would score in crunch time. Now with Turner gone too, Tennessee is really hurting for offense.
Really for the majority of the season, the offense has been stagnant. Turner was able to spark it here and there, gutting through a shoulder injury that clearly affected his shot. But Turner was at least an aggressor for Tennessee, getting into the paint and making something happen — whether it was getting to the free throw line or setting someone else up for an open shot.
But now Turner is gone. A shoulder procedure has ended his Tennessee career and the Vols are left searching for answers. On Saturday, no answers were found.
Jordan Bowden went missing again, shooting 2-13 and scoring seven points. Josiah-Jordan James’ lack of confidence and aggression was on full display again, scoring just four points on the day. Yves Pons hit a shot or two, but proved again that he isn’t a guy that you can play through, scoring just five points.
Tennessee didn’t have a single double figure scorer against the Badgers.
Tennessee’s most consistent offensive threat is John Fulkerson, who scored just nine points on Saturday. Think about that. Let it marinate. It I told you that at this time last year, you surely wouldn’t have believed me. You would have known Tennessee was in big trouble.
And the thing about it, Fulkerson isn’t really getting good looks. He’s forcing tough shots in the paint because somebody has to force something up.
We knew that Tennessee was going to have to get production from unknown pieces to be successful this year. So far, not only have they not gotten that, but the two proven commodities have disappointed as well. Now with one of those proven players sidelined for the year, things look even worse.
Is there an answer to these struggles? One potentially exists in the form of point guard Santiago Vescovi, who will be eligible to play on January 3rd. But do you even burn a season of eligibility with this roster around him? Or rather save a season and play him with Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Victor Bailey, Corey Walker and Uros Plavsic next year as a freshman.
It’s a big decision that Rick Barnes says is in the hands of Vescovi himself.
Putting that entire situation aside, Barnes has to find a way to jolt Bowden and James to life. Watching this offense has been infuriating lately, as the Volunteers just seem to pass the ball around the arc, waiting on something to happen. Without Turner on this team, Tennessee lacks that guy that wants the ball. They’re lacking a guy that wants to go make something happen.
Tennessee is currently a group of role players in desperate need of a star.
We’ve said all year that Bowden has to be that guy. So far, he’s proven incapable of that role. And unfortunately for Barnes, there doesn’t seem to be anyone on this roster capable of stepping up.
Making matters worse? SEC play starts in a week. We may be in for a bumpy ride.