Good Wins: South Carolina, Marquette (neutral site), at Florida, at South Carolina
Bad Losses: at Temple, Kentucky, at Auburn, at Ole Miss, at Kentucky
1. Offensive rebounding in transition. The Volunteers are always pushing the ball in transition as they look for early offensive opportunities on the break. They get it off the glass, push it up the court quick to create numbers, look up the floor, and explore their opportunities. Because they create numbers and get up the court so quickly, sometimes the best pass for the Volunteers is a missed shot in transition. On missed shots, the Vols usually have more orange jerseys at their end of the court and if defenders do get down court, they often struggle to find a body to block out or encounter match up problems.
2. Drive & Look. When they aren’t in transition, look for their guards to attempt to get in the lane and kick to shooters. Junior College transfer Bobby Maze (6-2, guard) is the best Vol at getting into the middle and creating.
1. Defense. The Volunteer philosophy is quite simple; deny the ball on inbounds and push, push, push when on offense. Notice I didn’t mention anything about defense in that philosophy. The Vols rely too much on their full-court denial. When they don’t get turnovers off of it, they often wait for their opponent to shoot so they can get the ball off of the glass and get in transition.
Tennessee is second-to-last in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 72.8 points per game. Individual scoring performances have hampered them all season long. The Vols have allowed guards to go off for 25 points or more eight times (Jodie Meeks-Kentucky 54, Dionte Christmas-Temple 35, Wesley Matthews-Marquette 30, Alex Renfroe-Belmont 30, Marcus Thornton-LSU 29, Rasheem Barrett-Auburn 27, Sherron Collins-Kansas 26, Matt Bouldin-Gonzaga 26).
2. Youth. Last season the Vols were led by seniors Chris Lofton and JuJuan Smith. They brought in freshman Scotty Hopkins to fill Lofton’s shoes, but those are some tough Nikes to fill. The Vols struggles in their full-court denial (and in half court) and that can be directly attributed to the loss of those seniors. Much is said about the length of the man guarding the inbounder and blocking vision, but you need athletic guards to deny and create turnovers.
Bench: It really benefits teams that play the way Tennessee does to be deep. However, Bruce Pearl really only goes eight deep. Junior Josh Tabb is their best defender and he comes off of the bench and sophomore Brian Williams provides some bulk underneath.
Departing: The Vols lost Smith and Lofton last season, but that shouldn’t be a problem next year. All eight guys in their rotation are juniors or younger and don’t look for Smith, Chism, or any other Vol to test the NBA waters.
The NCAA tournament is all about defense and point guard play, and I don’t think the Vols have enough of either to make a serious tournament run. Even last season when they entered the tournament as a #2 seed, they weren’t good enough defensively in the half-court to get past Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen. If they run into a team who likes to get up and down, they will be fine. If the Vols run into a team that can turn it into a half-court game, they will struggle to get out of the first weekend.