Over the past couple days, we’ve looked at Tennessee’s nationally fourth-ranked basketball recruiting class. This is the first piece on Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, the incoming pair of dynamic guards who are both 5-star recruits and ranked in the country’s top 20 high school basketball players. Click here for some notes on Corey Walker, Malachi Wideman and EJ Anosike.
Those guys won’t be the only newcomers to the squad, though. Victor Bailey, Jr., is eligible next season after transferring from Oregon to Tennessee and sitting out last year per NCAA rules. So, I guess he isn’t technically a newcomer since he was with the team last year. But — he will be logging his first official minutes at Tennessee the same time as the guys mentioned above. Ta-may-toe, ta-mah-toe.
Bailey’s transfer didn’t send shock waves through the college basketball world. He’s an underclassman guard and career seven points-per-game scorer. It’s understandable that the move flew a bit under the radar.
But his importance to the Tennessee basketball team next season shouldn’t be determined just by looking at his career averages. Let’s dig a little deeper and see if we can extrapolate something more meaningful.
He’s got two full seasons worth of data, his freshman season in 2017-18 and his sophomore season in 2018-19.
I think the easiest way to do this is look at his minutes played from both seasons first, and then dive into his scoring and other contributions after.
(Note: I got all my statistical information for this story from Sports-Reference dot com. Click here for the link to Bailey’s page. Sports-Reference is a wonderful tool.)
His freshman season, he averaged 16.6 minutes per game for the season. That’s pretty good for the kid’s first season of college basketball. For reference, junior wing Jalen Johnson averaged about 15 minutes per game for Tennessee last season. Bailey played 20 minutes or more 13 times his freshman year. Again, that’s solid, but what’s strange is the way his playing time tapered off as the season progressed. Bailey played for at least 10 minutes in 19 of the first 20 games, but failed to hit double-digit minutes four times over the final 16 games. That stretch includes just 25 total minutes in Oregon’s three Pac-12 Conference Tournament games. It gets stranger: Oregon made the NIT, and Bailey played 52 total minutes (25, 27) in just two contests.
The next year, Bailey’s sophomore season, he played at least 10 minutes during each of the Ducks’ first 20 games and at least 20 minutes 15 times, including nine of the final 10 games of the stretch. All in all, he averaged slightly more than 23 minutes per game during the first 20 games of the year.
However, his playing time again started to decrease. In fact, it dropped about as fast as handshakes during the quarantine. In the final 17 games, Bailey didn’t play more than 10 minutes four times, including a combined 12 minutes in Oregon’s final three games (one conference tournament game and two NCAA Tournament games). All in all, Bailey played 15 minutes or less in eight of the final 17 games. Ouch.
I did some digging, and there’s not a whole lot of information out there about the reason Bailey transferred. However, I did find one article, a piece from Rocky Top Insider, that shed some light on Bailey’s situation.
Nathanael Rutherford interviewed James Crepea, the Oregonian’s Ducks’ basketball beat writer, for the story, and Crepea said:
“Victor’s not leaving because of a crowded backcourt; Victor’s leaving because later in the season while Oregon took off and had a lot of success, his role change and changed dramatically,” Crepea stated. “It changed to a point where he didn’t even play in the season finale.”
Read the full story here, complete with a scouting report from Crepea.
With all that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Bailey’s scoring production while he rode the playing-time roller coaster.
I mentioned that his freshman season he played 20 or more minutes 13 times. Well, he also scored in double figures for nine of those 13 contests. Basically, he scored 10 or more in 70 percent of the games in which he played 20 minutes. That’s a decent figure — for reference. Jordan Bowden scored 10 or more in 25 of the 31 games (81 percent) in which he played 20 or more minutes last season, his senior year at Tennessee. Bailey scored 15 points or more in three of Oregon’s first five games that year. He also hit two or more 3s in nine of the 16 games during which he hit any 3-point shots. So, at least statistically, if Bailey hit one 3, he had a nearly 60-percent chance of hitting at least one more at some point during the game.
Despite the drop in playing time at the end of the season (combined 25 minutes in three conference tournament games) Bailey put together two-straight solid performances during Oregon’s NIT games going a combined 12/ 18 from the field (7/ 9 from 3) with 34 points and just three turnovers.
He finished the season averaging nearly seven points per game with 41 percent from the field and nearly 37 percent from deep. Watch the video. He’s got a nice shot, plus, he’s left-handed so the Vols will once again vie for the crown of most lefties on one team.
His sophomore year, we notice the same trend — less playing time as the season progressed. He averaged nine points in 23 minutes during the first 20 games but only 5.6 points in 14.5 minutes during the final 17 games of the season. He hit at least one 3 in 16 of the 17 games that he played at least 20 minutes and averaged nearly 40 percent from deep for the year.
Given ample playing time, there’s enough statistical evidence to be excited for Bailey’s potential offensive contributions to next year’s team. He can score and hit open 3s, and Tennessee’s offense was lacking both of those traits last season. The Vols’ offense dipped to just 67 points per game in 2019, hit just 6 3s per game and ranked 271st in the country in 3-point field goal percentage. Plenty of room for improvement.
The problem is: there will be no playing time given under Rick Barnes. Barnes has a low threshold for nonsense, and he most definitely wants you playing defense. If you can’t or won’t, then you just won’t play. Ask Jalen Johnson.
I expect Springer, Johnson and Walker to all make impacts, but a proven 40 percent, volume 3-point shooter should be invaluable to this team. I don’t know how it will work out, but if Bailey is ready to play, on both ends of the court, he might just be the most important new face on the team outside of EJ Anosike.