Kennedy Chandler came firing out of the gates this season, immediately looking like he was ready to steer Tennessee to big things. The five-star point guard was in double figures in six of his first seven games as a Volunteer, culminating with a 27 point performance against Colorado in early December.
And then things changed. The schedule got tougher. Opposing scouting reports adjusted, and suddenly it was tougher sledding for the future NBA draft pick.
“In some ways, I told him before, I told that in some ways a curse,” Rick Barnes said of Chandler’s hot start. “It looked so easy for him early in the year. I think he went out thinking every game was going to be like (Colorado). You go back, he really struggles at times after that game. Where changing defenses and he thought each game was going to be just a repeat.”
Chandler found double figures just twice over the next seven games, and the results for Tennessee as a team were mixed in that span. His production quickly stabilized, but the learning process continued.
Now as Tennessee creeps closer to tournament season, we’re seeing plenty of flashes reminding us of why he was ranked so highly as a prospect.
As Rick Barnes explains, it’s all a part of the process.
“He has learned how to read defenses,” Barnes continued. “He is talking so much. He looked over at me tonight and said hey coach they are switching one through four. I looked at him and said you know what to do. You take advantage of it. He is talking. He has just matured so much in understanding and learning there is so much more to the game than what we he had thought. He had always played with the ball in his hands. When he didn’t have it, he stood. Defensively, he is learning now how to really play defense. He has almost a 6-7 wingspan. He is learning how to use that.”
Chandler’s 23 points paced Tennessee to an 80-61 win over Missouri on Tuesday. It was the first time Chandler had scored 20 points since that outburst against Colorado. Adding to that, Chandler grabbed eight rebounds and was credited with six assists, really taking the game over in the closing minutes of the first half.
With an overall inconsistent offense, that’s the effort Tennessee is going to need come tournament season, which is just around the corner. Zakai Zeigler has emerged and can do a little bit of everything, but Chandler currently holds the keys to getting the Volunteers to that next level.
In Tennessee’s most recent wins, Chandler has scored 23 at Missouri, 17 against Kentucky and 18 at Mississippi State. He went scoreless against Vanderbilt for about 36 minutes, but scored six massive points late to put that one on ice.
Things seem to be coming back together for Chandler, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to make that happen.