Rick Barnes and his Tennessee basketball team are off to a 3-1 start, after taking down 18th ranked Purdue in their opening game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, then coming up short against fifth-ranked Villanova, 85-76. The Vols were able to get over the hump that escaped them early last season – a win against a top 25 nonconference team, but could not do it twice in a row. Tennessee, however, has certainly looked like a tournament-worthy team so far.
Tennessee can play with the big boys
The primary concern going into the Purdue game was how the Vols would match up physically, particularly in the paint. Boilermaker big men Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms, at 7’2”and 7’3”, respectively, were expected to be a problem. Tennessee, however, outrebounded Purdue 50-41, particularly on the offensive glass, winning that battle with 20 rebounds to Purdue’s 10. The Vols did a good job of stretching out the court in both games and using their athleticism to their advantage, also proving they can get after rebounds relentlessly, despite the fact that they will likely be undersized against many opponents. They did not have the same rebounding success against Villanova, but had a 15-point lead in the first half and took the game to the wire despite an awful start to the second half.
The Vols need to finish at the rim
Tennessee put themselves in some bad situations right under the basket. The Vols missed too many bunny layups, and needed offensive rebounds and second chances to finally get them in. They did a good job of putting Williams in a position to score inside the paint as well, but he missed a couple shots down the stretch in both games that he typically makes. There is no questions Williams has been Tennessee’s MVP so far this season, but he will certainly have to clean up his shooting in the lane. In the end, rebounding and good defense won Tennessee the Purdue game, but Rick Barnes will likely emphasize some of those missed shots down in the post at team meetings.
Turnovers, turnovers, and more turnovers.
Last season, the Vols turned the ball over far too often, averaging just over 12 per game. In the first game in the Bahamas Tennessee turned the ball over 15 times – countered by Purdue’s 18 – but was able to win the game. After a great first half against Villanova, a sloppy second half brought the team’s total to 14, and it cost them the game. Although Villanova had their fair share as well, the Wildcats were able to capitalize on Tennessee’s mistakes.
No moral victories for this team
Last season was full of moral victories. Coming up short against national powers such as Wisconsin, Oregon, and North Carolina was promising, but 2017 is a different story. After winning the first game against a ranked team, Tennessee and its fans knew it could have won today against Villanova. The Vols will take on the loser of the Northern Iowa-NC State game tomorrow at 2:30 Eastern for third place in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and will certainly be expecting a win. The Vols are eager to prove they are better than 13th in the SEC, and they definitely have so far.