The Three Reasons Tennessee Basketball Has Derailed
Who would have thought it? Its late February and with four conference games remaining the Tennessee Volunteers need to win at least two to ensure an 8 and 8 record in league play. That won't be easy. The games left on UT's schedule are at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State at home, at South Carolina, and Kentucky at home. In order to split those games the Vols are going to have to play extraordinary basketball. Tennessee has lost five of its last seven at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym. This Vanderbilt team is better than Tennessee right now. While Mississippi State is a mess they still have one of the most talented rosters in the conference and could easily pose real problems for the Vols in the half-court. Traveling to South Carolina is never easy, just ask John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and the Kentucky Wildcats from last year. Speaking of the Kentucky Wildcats, we all know the history in that series. I'll just say it slightly favors our neighbors to the north. What's my point? Its going to be really, really tough to pull two wins from those four games.
Why do I reference two wins in the next four? Tennessee's coach Bruce Pearl thinks that if the Vols are .500 in conference play and then win their first SEC Tournament game, that should be enough to get the Vols in the NCAA Tournament. I'm not so sure but I'll take Bruce's word for it (insert "how much is Bruce's word worth?" joke here).
So what happened? Why is this happening? Why are the Vols, who were once a legitimate Final Four contender, looking to scrape together a resume here at the eleventh hour? I think there are three big reasons. They are below:
1. Recruiting Misses and De-commitments
Last week Wes Rucker of 247 Sports wrote a pretty cool piece about the Vols having five 4-star recruits on the scout team. You can read it here: http://tennessee.247sports.com/Article/Basketball-Vols-four-stars-not-a-normal-scout-team-15587. It really shows how far the Tennessee basketball program has come under Bruce Pearl. Having five 4-star guys on the team, let alone the scout team, would have been unlikely at any other point in the programs history. However, the fact that these guys find themselves on the scout team shows that they have underachieved. Kenny Hall isn't nearly as far along as was expected. Renaldo Woolridge would be a role player for most mid-major programs. Jeronne Maymon hasn't provided the spark off the bench that the coaching staff hoped for when he transferred from Marquette. Trae Golden is young and will be a really good point guard someday but of late he lost his spot in the rotation to Skylar McBee. Jordan McRae may be the best athlete on the team but hasn't been able to break into the lineup. Personal issues and poor defense have relegated McRae to the bench.
There are always a lot of misses in recruiting in any sport. The misses in the Pearl-era, however, seem to be piling up. Ramar Smith and Duke Crews ring any bells?
Not only have the players that haven't lived up to their hype been disappointing but the de-commitments in last years class have crippled the team this season. What has been the biggest weakness of this team? You guessed it, Point Guard. How much different would the Vols look with either Aaron Craft (currently at Ohio State) or Josh Selby (currently at Kansas) running the point? Both of those players were committed to Pearl and the Vols. In fact, as I'm sure you know, they were the Juniors who were at CookoutGate at the Pearl house. Next time one of those two teams are on television just watch those guys for a few minutes. They are both awesome. You'll be sick.
2. The Offense
I'm hesitant to bring this up. Bruce Pearl knows so much more about offensive basketball than I will ever care to know. This isn't a case of know-it-all blogger pretending to know more than the coach. There has to be a good reason that Tennessee's base offense is a version of flex but with players who are neither particularly good screeners or cutters I can't imagine what that reason would be. This may be a fan overreaction but does Tennessee ever get a bucket off the flex cut or the subsequent down screen?
I've talked to guys who coach basketball, albeit at lower levels than the University of Tennessee, and to a man I've never heard someone compliment the Vols offense. Pearl has had a ton of success in Knoxville. He knows what he is doing. I just can't figure it out. Maybe that says more about me than it does him but with the sporadic offense we've seen this year I'm not so sure.
3. The NCAA Cloud
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