How many time have you seen Tennessee just throw the ball around the arc this year in their half-court offense? It’s seemingly a never-ending sequence, usually ending in a forced attempt from deep that typically falls short.
Tennessee’s half-court offense isn’t working, and it really hasn’t all year. Mainly because they don’t have that guy that’s going to demand the ball and make things happen — like Grant Williams last season. This group is still fresh and ever changing with the late additions of Santiago Vescovi and Uros Plavsic.
Though offense was far from the only problem on Wednesday, Rick Barnes notices one key element is missing from this year’s team.
“It’s Santi and Josiah, they have to give us some leadership,” Barnes told the media on Wednesday. “They don’t give us an initial thrust at all on offense. They just play at a much slower pace than we want to play. Actually the only time we got the break going, Jordan Bowden went and did it.”
Tennessee was deadly with Jordan Bone pushing the pace last season, stealing buckets and capitalizing on defenses that weren’t ready. Now with a near totally new group of guards, Barnes is kind of restarting from ground zero. Two true freshman guards, one of which arrived three weeks ago, are now responsible for the pace of the offense.
According to Barnes, it’s not been where it needs to be.
“That’s what we’ve been known for,” Barnes said. “We’ve done it enough that people in the league try to run some of that break. But we’re not very good at it until those guys understand our transition game. We get bogged down every time down the court having to play half-court basketball with the players we have right now.”
On the other side, Georgia was pushing the pace and getting clean looks at the basket from just about wherever they wanted. That’s in part because of the NBA talent of Anthony Edwards, but also due to some really bad defense from Tennessee.
Offensive pace and defense go hand in hand. They feed off each other. Barnes has always preached that your defensive effort is where you have to start — right now, Tennessee isn’t making plays on that end of the floor.
“Too many soft plays,” Barnes said of his team’s defensive effort. “Too many guys going to the basket and instead of moving your feet to make a play, you swipe down, ticky-tack fouls. That’s soft. We had at least three of them. We just weren’t alert.”
With hopes of making the NCAA Tournament continuing to dwindle, it feels like the goal of this team has shifted to development. Getting Josiah and Santi up to speed and comfortable before Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer and Corey Walker arrive should become the primary goal for Barnes. Getting them to play faster will come with time, which they both certainly have plenty of.