With four games left on the conference schedule, the SEC has a three-way tie atop the regular season standings. We talked about Tennessee having a backloaded schedule and it’s turned out to really shake things up down the stretch.
The Vols have dropped two of their last three, losing at Kentucky and at LSU. Big picture, the sky isn’t exactly falling in Knoxville just yet, but their hopes of a regular season SEC title took a big hit on Saturday in Baton Rouge.
Tennessee has defensive issues that have been plaguing them for the better part of the new year. They’ve now seen two of their main contributors on the perimeter — Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner — go ice cold over the last three games.
Making matters worse, they’ve got four legitimate challenges left on the schedule. Road trips to Ole Miss and Auburn likely won’t be picnics, while Kentucky looms this week as a huge showdown that could essentially eliminate one team from contention in the SEC race.
What’s left for each team
Tennessee: at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Mississippi State, at Auburn
Kentucky: Arkansas, at Tennessee, at Ole Miss, Florida
LSU: Texas A&M, at Alabama, at Florida, Vanderbilt
Rebounding against Tennessee after that loss to Florida was a big deal for LSU, who seems to have the easiest path in the final four games. They’ve shown up when it matters the most to this point, toppling Kentucky on the road and winning without Tremont Waters at home against Tennessee.
Kentucky does seem like they’ve turned a corner, however. The Wildcats clobbered Auburn on Saturday, winning by nearly 30 points without key player Reid Travis. If they can get around Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday, it’s tough to imagine them dropping one to Ole Miss or Florida.
For Tennessee, it’s simply about getting back to being Tennessee. They haven’t looked like themselves in three consecutive games. A No. 1 seed isn’t out of the question, but they’ll have to snap out of their funk quick and perhaps get some help along the way from teams that are now in front of them. Big picture — Tennessee has lost to two top 15 teams on the road in two of the last three. When you frame it like that, things don’t sound all that bad. But the Vols absolutely have to get Jordan Bowden going again before tournament season. Lamonte Turner has to find his shot again. Tennessee has to ramp up the intensity defensively. These are legitimate concerns that must be addressed over the next two weeks.
On the positive, we saw Admiral Schofield take over the game in stretches against LSU. That’s a welcomed sign for a guy who has struggled over the better part of the last month. It was around this time last year when Schofield really turned it on. Tennessee could certainly use that guy again this year.
We’re getting dangerously close to go-time this season. If the Vols are going to right this ship, it has to start on Wednesday night in Oxford.