A year later, we are right back in the same boat.
Time is a flat circle.
All Rust Cohle mantras aside, the Vols will need the Kyle Alexander from 2017’s matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers or the Kyle Alexander from back in January of the 2018 season if they want to win Thursday night’s matchup.
The game in the Bahamas saw Alexander record 13 points, 11 rebounds, and two steals in 29 minutes of play. He was a major factor in the game, squaring off against center Matt Haarms, whom he will see again in the upcoming matchup.
Alexander’s absence in the Loyola-Chicago game eventually led to the Vols’ demise in the 2018 NCAA Tournament and the thought coming into 2019 was that he would finally develop into the player Rick Barnes - and many, many others - thought he would become.
Granted, he has improved in many statistical categories in 2018, but his overall product on the hardwood leaves a lot to be desired, especially as of late.
He started off as expected - crashing boards, scoring from the post, and blocking shots at a high clip during the first 17 games of the season. Over that span, he averaged right around 10 points per game, 7.7 rebounds, and two blocks. He eclipsed double-digits in 11 of those 17 games.
But something changed during the last 19 games, which include the tournament. Ever since the Vols faced off against the Vanderbilt Commodores as the number one team in the country, Alexander’s contributions have been average at best.
He’s scored 95 points over the last 19 games, good enough for just 5.0 ppg, and he’s averaged around 5.6 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game.
For context’s sakes, John Fulkerson - Alexander’s backup - has averaged around 2.5 points per game, 2.3 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks in the last 19 games.
But here’s the deal, Alexander has averaged around 21 minutes per game over that span, while Fulkerson averages right around 11.5 minutes per game. It’s not out of reach to think that Fulkerson could replicate Alexander’s production as of late if given more time, but that’s a different topic for a different day.
To make matters worse, Alexander has 55 personal fouls over the last 19 games compared to just 39 in the first 17 games. He’s also fouled out of the game five times in the past 19 games, compared to none over the first 17.
It’s one thing for Alexander to lack in the production department, but it’s a completely different story when he can’t even stay on the hardwood.
The Vols don’t have a lot of size and as they continue to progress in the tournament, they are going to come across teams that have plenty of size to go around and Alexander will be needed for those games.
But he can’t do a damn thing if he’s riding the bench due to foul trouble. He also can’t do a damn thing if he’s not playing up to the standards he has set in the past.
It seems like he has lost the physicality and aggressiveness that he had towards the end of last season and the beginning of this season. I’m not saying that he lacks effort, but he just seems to be out of touch with his assignments and scouting reports.
Any player that is matched up with him size-wise will dominate him, there is no doubt about it. The best example came in the semifinal of the SEC Tournament against Kentucky, where Reid Travis forced Alexander to foul out due to two accumulated fouls in about a :10 span.
Alexander will be pivotal against Purdue because he is the only who can matchup with Haarms and throw him off his game. Haarms finished with just two points in 21 minutes during the 2017 matchup.
If Alexander plays like he has over the second half of the season, then the Vols will basically have no shot at winning this game. The Boilermakers are finding their groove and can hit shots from anywhere on the court. Without an interior defender, the Vols will all be but screwed come Thursday.
If he’s figuratively - or actually - absent during this game, then expect another loss.
It’s that simple, really.