I’ve spent a lot of time (and words) trying to pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong with Tennessee’s basketball team.
People have different theories: Are they tired? Did they peak too early in the season? Were they simply overrated?
I’m not sure any of those are totally correct or incorrect; I’d say it’s likely a mixture of them all in varying degrees depending on the day. It also seems that some of the guys on the team just aren’t playing as well as they did in November and December. Kyle Alexander is one of those guys.
Alexander was a popular topic of discussion early in the season as one the surprise “X-factors,” for Tennessee’s success because he was scoring the ball more than he did last season while still rebounding and blocking shots at above-average rates.
During the first 16 games of the year, he averaged more than 10 points per game with a shooting percentage on 2-pointers that was close to 70, and he eclipsed the double-digit scoring mark 11 times. He shot 67 percent from the free throw line, and he was snagging about eight rebounds and blocking nearly two shots every time Tennessee played.
In the 11 games since, his numbers are down in almost every category (except for blocks – those are up). His shooting percentage has dropped almost 15 points, currently sitting at just below 55 percent. His scoring has dropped by half to 5.1 points per game, and he’s scored 10-or-more points just one time. He’s making just two of four shots per game, whereas in his first 11 games he was making four of six.
His free-throw shooting percentage through this stretch is 58 percent, down nine points from the first 16 games. He’s making fewer free throws, but what’s maybe more concerning -- he’s taking less of them, too. He’s failed to attempt even one free throw in seven out of the last 11 games. He went from averaging 2.2 makes on 3.3 attempts to averaging .6 makes on 1.1 attempts. You can’t make any free throws if you don’t go to the line, and he’s getting to line less often because he’s attempting fewer shots from the field. Around and around we go.
Alexander tallied 10-or-more rebounds three times during the first 16 games of the season (he set a career-high with 17 boards against Missouri), but he hasn’t hit that mark once in the 11 games that have followed. In fact, his average in that time is hovering around five per game. He grabbed six rebounds against LSU, but before that he’d secured just three rebounds in four-straight games.
Part of the problem – he’s playing less because of foul trouble. He’s averaging almost five minutes on the floor less in his last 11 than he did during the first 16 games of the season. He’s also fouled out three times in these last 11 games after not fouling out once prior. He’s played fewer than 20 minutes five times in the last 11 games after playing 20 minutes or more in every game before that.
I’m not sure if there’s something more to this or not. It’s totally possible that it’s just been a poor stretch of games, but the Vols need Alexander to return to his early-season form. It’s no accident that this team was playing better when Alexander was more effective.