Coach Rick Barnes and the Vols have to feel good as they leave the Bahamas with a third place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis. After defeating No. 18 Purdue, the Vols’ upset bid against No. 5 Villanova fell short on day two and Tennessee was able to survive N.C. State on day three. With three impressive performances against possible tournament teams, Tennessee’s RPI is in good shape.
Here’s what we learned about this year’s Vols team:
Round One: “Undersized” Is a Theoretical Term
In Tennessee’s first matchup against Purdue, the front court had to try to stop 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms. The Vols came into this matchup extremely undersized, but apparently someone forgot to tell them that.
Tennessee won the rebound battle 50-41, and what was even more impressive, recorded 20 offensive rebounds compared to Purdue’s 10. Having more desire can overcome the height you lack, and Tennessee just purely outworked Purdue on the boards. If the Vols can play with this tenacity through the SEC schedule, then they are sure to turn some heads.
One of those undersized big men is 6-foot-7 Grant Williams, who is definitely Tennessee’s MVP of the tournament. Williams failed to score in the first half against Purdue, but was the hero for Tennessee when it mattered. He scored 14 points in the second half including a couple of clutch free throws late in the game to help send the game to overtime. Williams scored eight more points in the extra period, including the game-winning jumper with 14 seconds remaining to win 78-75.
It’s obvious that Williams is going to get a lot of touches this season.
Round Two: The Ability To Adjust
Tennessee looked very uncomfortable early against Villanova’s 1-3-1 half court press and quickly found itself down 11-5. The Wildcats were shooting 50 percent from the field compared to the Vols 29 percent, but Tennessee slowed down the game and adapted, finding holes in the zone. The Vols proceeded to rob the Wildcats of all momentum and took the lead for the first time with 9:30 left in the first half, but it didn’t stop there. Villanova went without a field goal for almost five minutes and the Vols waltzed into the halftime break with a 14-point lead.
That halftime break meant everything, because Tennessee sauntered back onto the court and found itself on the wrong end of a 23-2 run right out of the gate. The Vols were down by as much as 15, and the way Villanova was playing, a lot of teams would have laid down.
But the Vols didn’t.
Down 10 with two minutes remaining, the Vols scored seven unanswered to pull within three, but it was too late. Villanova went 4 of 6 from the free throw line and pulled out the victory 85-76 to advance to the championship, where they beat Northern Iowa 64-50.
Tennessee struggled trying to figure out Villanova’s zone in the beginning, but the Vols slowed down the tempo and found open holes in the press, leading to a big run which gave it the lead. The Vols may have given up a large run in the second half, but they didn’t quit and took the number five team in the nation down to the wire in just their fourth game of the season.
Things aren’t always going to go your way in a basketball game, and the Vols showed that they have the ability to adjust to whatever is thrown at them.
Round Three: Just Scrap It Out
After losing your chance to advance to the championship in a November tournament, it’s hard to show up motivated to play for third place. That’s exactly what Tennessee and N.C. State had to do, and it wasn’t pretty.
Both teams shot under 40 percent from the floor and combined for 28 turnovers in the first half. The one bright spot for the Vols was that the Wolfpack went 0 of 8 from beyond the arc while the Vols went 5 of 11, leading to a seven-point halftime lead.
The two teams came out and played a tighter second half and the Wolfpack threatened several times, but Tennessee hit their free throws late and scrapped it out, winning 67-58. The Vols executed late in the game and beat a team who is also an NCAA tournament hopeful.
Who Is Standing Out?
Williams finished the tournament with 56 points and 22 rebounds. As a sophomore, he is starting to look like a real leader of this team and he is the go-to guy when the Vols need a bucket.
Kyle Alexander is finally starting to look like a true center. He put up 13 points and 11 rebounds against Purdue’s bigs including five offensive rebounds, which led all players. Alexander didn’t make much of a difference on the scoreboard against Villanova, but he hit both of his shots from the field and led all players with eight rebounds. Alexander played maybe his most complete game against N.C. State, where he scored eight points, grabbed 13 rebounds and recorded four blocks. Fans should be excited for what this year could hold for him.