With the calendar now turned to February and Tennessee sitting at No. 1 in the AP Poll for a third consecutive week, I thought it was time to take a deeper dive into Tennessee’s season than the 20-1 record next to its name. So I went to KenPom to find out where the Vols have improved this season and where they may have a potential weakness as we head toward the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look.
Possibly the two most important and all-encompassing statistics in all of college basketball, in my opinion, are adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. When Tennessee stunned the college basketball world in 2018 by winning a share of the SEC title and being a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Vols ranked sixth nationally in defensive efficiency and 36th in offensive efficiency.
This season, those numbers are almost the precise inverse. Tennessee is currently second in the country in offensive efficiency and 45th in the country defensively. Now, that’s not to say one way of winning is better than another. But relying on shots falling is a considerably less predictable outcome than stifling teams on the defensive end, especially in a postseason as volatile as the NCAA Tournament.
But if you’re going to rely on an offense to win games, I think you’d have a tough time picking a better one than Tennessee’s right now. The Vols’ effective field goal percentage of 57.1 is good for sixth nationally, while their two-point field goal percentage of 58.3 ranks fourth in the country. With seemingly all of basketball headed full steam ahead toward the 3-point shot, Tennessee runs beautiful offense to get more wide-open 12-foot shots than any team I’ve ever seen — and they usually go in.
Speaking of the 3-pointer, you may be surprised how little a team with shooters like Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden uses it. Just 23.9 percent of Tennessee’s points come from behind the arc, which is 330th in college basketball — the national average is 31.8 percent.
Now, let’s talk about defense. Tennessee’s defense is still pretty good by most measures. Perhaps the number to be most concerned with is offensive rebounding percentage, where Tennessee ranks 245th in the country. That is something which could plague the Vols in an NCAA Tournament game, particularly with Kyle Alexander’s recent trend of committing too many fouls. Additionally, whereas only 23.9 percent of Tennessee’s points come from the 3-pointer, the Vols are allowing opponents to get 34 percent of their points behind the arc, several points above the national average.
Again, Tennessee’s defense is good. But those are definitely some numbers to keep an eye on in a single-elimination tournament setting.
One other stat to monitor is Tennessee’s bench minutes. Currently, the Vols’ bench only accounts for 26.7 percent of the team’s minutes, ranking 271st in college basketball. The national average is more than 30 percent. Hopefully Tennessee’s starters are able to continue this level of production if their current workload continues through the rest of the season.
Individually, Tennessee has players near the top of the country in several stats. Grant Williams’ 7.9 fouls drawn per 40 minutes is third nationally. Williams also has cpaitalized on drawing those fouls, with the highest free throw percentage of his career this season at 83 percent.
Alexander ranks fifth nationally in effective field goal percentage at 69 percent, just another indicator of how important it is for Tennessee to have him on the floor as much as possible.
With the Vols nearing the home stretch of the regular season, some advanced stats show they’re right where they want to be, while others show there is still some room for improvement. We’ll see how these statistics impact the rest of Tennessee’s regular season and into the postseason.