After a brief hiatus, Three Things is back. Unfortunately, the Tennessee basketball team looked like it was still taking some time off. Wisconsin smacked the Vols 68-48 in Thompson-Boling Arena, and here are Three Things.
WHAT’S THE POINT
In the first game of the post-Lamonte Turner era, Tennessee definitely felt the absence of its starting point guard.
Though Turner was pretty clearly off all season, evidenced by his 23 percent 3-point percentage and 31 percent field-goal shooting mark, the Vols missed his play-making and decision-making against Wisconsin Saturday.
Tennessee put zero pressure on the Badger defense with dribble-drive penetration and couldn’t effectively get the ball inside to Yves Pons or John Fulkerson. The Josiah James/Jordan Bowden/Davonte Gaines point-guard triumvirate showed zero ability to beat its man off the dribble or create any offense outside of Tennessee’s offensive sets. I don’t know if the problem is from a lack of aggressiveness or if it’s just a dearth of talent. Are James/ Bowden/Gaines just timid? Or are they simply not skilled enough with their ball-handling and quick enough with their foot speed to create space and drive past their defenders? I’d say the former would be the poison I’d pick, given the choice, since that’s probably something that can be fixed. To an extent, aggression can be harped on, coached and learned.
If it’s the latter — just a talent deficiency — then I don’t know what the remedy is. I’m not sure relying on incoming freshman and mid-year enrollee Santiago Vescovi is a good strategy, but do the Vols have another choice?
Whatever the case, James/ Bowden/ Gaines combined for 17 points and shot 5-27 from the field against Wisconsin. They had nine assists and eight turnovers, and the Vols got beat. That’s no coincidence.
THREE’S NO COMPANY
During the first five games of the season, all wins, Tennessee averaged nearly 74 points and shot almost 60 percent from the field. In the last seven games, four of which are losses, the offense is scoring just under 65 points per game and is shooting around 40 percent from the field.
There are undoubtedly a lot of reasons why the offense is struggling, but one of the most apparent is the dip in the team’s 3-point shooting. In those first five games, the Vols averaged seven made 3s per game and shot around 39 percent from deep. The long-ball just hasn’t been falling in the last seven games — Tennessee is hitting just four per game and shooting it at 20 percent.
When you break it down, a team missing shots over a designated period is really just individual players missing shots in each game. Duh, right?
Pons started the season averaging 1.2 makes from 3 and was shooting the 3 at a 50 percent mark. Since then, he’s averaging less than one make per game and is shooting 24 percent from deep.
Bowden began the year hitting 2.6 3s per game and draining the 3 at a 50 percent clip. In the last seven games, he’s hitting just 1.5 3s per game and shooting 27 percent from deep.
Etc., etc., etc., so on and so forth.
Some of the problem is the Vols had set an unsustainable pace early in the year. Neither Pons nor Bowden are 50 percent 3-point shooters. Math says those shots weren’t going to keep dropping, and math is pretty reliable.
PAGING JORDAN BOWDEN
Bowden was real bad in the first game sans back-court cohort Lamonte Turner. Usually, I don’t like to say things like “real bad,” when I write, because there are often other ways of stating something. He struggled, or his shots weren’t falling or it wasn’t his day or whatever. But in this case, “real bad,” just covers it.
There’s a lot going on with Bowden right now. He had his jersey retired at Carter high school and his grandmother recently passed away. Those are pretty big deals for regular people who aren’t juggling practice and school and likely some attempt at maintaining a semblance of a social life. So, I imagine those kind of events are even harder for somebody whose life is already a messy conglomerate of over-exertion, a lack of sleep and mental haggardness.
Still, life isn’t fair, and Bowden will be judged as a basketball player by his performance on the basketball court. And the Vols need more from him than what they got against Wisconsin. Tennessee now has eight scholarship players, and it can’t afford its senior guard to go 2-13 from the field and 1-8 from 3 like Bowden did Saturday.
He had four 3s against Jacksonville State, but that was the first time he hit more than one 3-pointer since he hit two against Florida State. This season always hinged on Bowden and Turner becoming more consistent scorers, but if Tennessee has any inklings of making the NCAA tournament, Bowden has to be better.