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Three Takeaways: Tennessee sleepwalks through bounce-back game against Vanderbilt

There’s a lot to get right on this team.

Vanderbilt v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

After watching the Vols get punched in the mouth for 40 minutes against Kentucky, a game against the lowly 0 for 12 in conference play Vanderbilt Commodores looked like a pretty appetizing spot. It was a chance to bounce back and get back on track before another huge game on Saturday.

Tennessee did not take advantage.

The Vols looked sluggish and indecisive — plenty happy to operate at a snail’s pace at home against the worst team in the SEC. That fun team that we’ve gotten used to watching wasn’t on the floor on Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling. Instead, it was sort of a reminder of what the team looked like in stretches last year.

Tennessee was a rudderless ship for the second game in a row, which is a concerning development considering what the Vols have on tap to close SEC play.

Jordan Bone isn’t pushing right now.

After watching the last two games, the main thing that looks different about this group is the aggression level of Jordan Bone. When the Vols are at their best, Bone is pushing the ball up the court and using his elite speed. He’s putting the defense in all kinds of pressure, forcing them to collapse off of their assignments on the perimeter. For the most part over the last two games, Bone has been timid. It’s reminded me of how things were last year, when Rick Barnes literally was begging Bone to get to the basket.

Barnes said after the Kentucky game that the pace was up to Bone to control — it was up to him to be the aggressor. He hasn’t been that over the past few days and I believe it’s the main reason why Tennessee looks lost offensively.

Bone ended tonight with nine points and six assists, but never found a rhythm or challenged Vanderbilt in transition. That has to change against LSU.

Kyle Alexander is MIA.

Last year several people pointed to Alexander as the X-factor that could make Tennessee great. In a lot of ways, those people were right — as evidenced by the Vols’ performance without him against Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee doesn’t need Alexander to be great, but they do need him active on the boards and staying out of foul trouble. Both of those things have been an issue of late.

Alexander registered just three rebounds for the fourth straight game against the Commodores, adding only three points and one block to the cause. He’s played 20 minutes or more just once in that four game span, putting the pressure on Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and John Fulkerson to defend the paint.

Alexander is never going to be relied upon as a scorer, but Tennessee has to have him on the floor defending to be at their best. That just hasn’t happened lately.

Another rough shooting night for Bowden and Turner.

One reason why Tennessee wasn’t even competitive with Kentucky over the weekend was a lack of shooting. Admiral Schofield, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden combined to go 1-17 from three-point land, handicapping an offense that couldn’t get anything done in the paint either.

Schofield got it going a little tonight, but Turner and Bowden didn’t. Lamonte started hot, connecting on his first two shots from deep, but finished 4-12 from the floor. He ended up just 3-9 from three-point range. Bowden finished just 1-6 and didn’t look like himself for the second game in a row.

It’s a worrisome development for Bowden, who we’ve seen struggle with confidence before. He was emerging as another option that could take over a ballgame for Rick Barnes, but he’s been invisible in recent days. As always with Bowden, he just needs to keep firing away. He’s too good of a shooter to be passive.

Let’s not forget, this team is 24-2

It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives right now, but this group has still won 24 games and is a top five team in the country. As Barnes pointed out after the game, these are the dog days of the season. You’re going to have some stretches of bad play. The Wednesday-Saturday-Tuesday turnaround over the past six days likely had something to do with the effort you saw on the court against Vandy.

Tennessee has three days to rest up (which it seems like they desperately need) before facing LSU on the road Saturday, who plays Florida tomorrow night. Tennessee-LSU is a huge game for the Vols’ status as a No. 1 seed and in the SEC race. We should find out a lot about this team on Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge.