The Vols put up a respectable fight over the weekend, before ultimately falling at home to No. 12 Kentucky.
Tennessee simply didn’t have the horses to pull out a win over the Wildcats, but that won’t be the case on Tuesday as the Vols welcome in Arkansas (16-7).
Although the Razorbacks (4-6) are below the Vols (5-5) in the SEC standings, their performance on the season has been considerably better.
How much is considerably better?
Well, Arkansas currently sits at No. 38 in the NET rankings and is ranked No. 36 via KenPom.
For reference, Tennessee is ranked No. 68 in both.
It would be safe to say that Arkansas is firmly in the field of 68 (9-seed per Joe Lunardi), and would be a significant win for the Vols.
Generally, if Tennessee wants to hang on any hope of making the tournament, a win over the Razorbacks is a must.
A loss to Arkansas virtually shuts down any chance the Vols have to make the field.
To put things dramatically, this is the 2019-20 Vols proverbial last-stand.
The ultimate question is—will we get a performance worthy of the stakes?
VOLS’ UPHILL BATTLE
The Razorbacks have the No. 1 ranked three-point defense, with their opponents averaging an abysmal 24.6% from deep.
That doesn’t bode well for a Tennessee squad who struggles mightily from outside the arc and ranks near the bottom (No. 305) in 3PT%.
On the flip side, Arkansas only ranks No. 157 in two-point defense.
This contest has the potential to force the Vols’ hand into strictly playing inside the arc.
Which is something Tennessee has been inconsistent, to say the least.
THE INCREDIBLE FULK
Trailing only Jordan Bowden, John Fulkerson is Tennessee’s second-leading scorer on the season.
Fulkerson has scored 22 points and 16 points in his last two outings, the latter off of going 10-12 from the charity stripe versus Kentucky.
Tennessee will need a similar performance from him against the Razorbacks to come out with a win.
In the end, if the Vols can get the ball to the post consistently on Tuesday, their chances of victory will be high.
Given the Vols less-than-ideal three-point shooting this season, feeding the ball inside should be the goal every night.
Along with Fulkerson and Pons, the Vols two-point offense could be better if Bowden would consistently get to the rim.
Bowden has obviously struggled beyond the arc, but his two-point performances have been quite the opposite.
Dating back to January 15th (8 games), Bowden has shot 33-56 from two-point range.
For those wondering, that is 58.9%.
For reference, Fulkerson (who arguably is Tennessee’s best player) is shooting 63.2% inside the arc.
So—58.9% is a pretty high clip.
It makes you wonder why he continues to shoot three-pointers instead of pushing it inside.
Although Bowden has missed his fair share of two-pointers, his 2PT% still far exceeds his 3PT%.
Also, when he’s made a point to get to the rim, it’s gotten him to the foul line considerably more often.
All in all, when it comes to three-point shooting, Santiago Vescovi should be the only one giving it any thought.
Tennessee has all the tools to have an inside-the-arc focused offense.
Highlighting Bowden and Vescovi in more ball-screen actions with Fulkerson and Pons could be a potential answer.
Which is something the Vols have shown at times, but overall not nearly enough times to reap the benefits.
Whichever way you slice it, the Vols have to make a point to get the ball inside before attempting any three-pointers.
Even wide open looks beyond the arc can easily be turned into two-point jumpers or drives to the rim utilizing pump-fakes.
Taking that route might be Tennessee’s best chance to take down Arkansas in Thompson-Boling Arena.
A win over the Razorbacks is the only thing that will keep the Vols’ NCAA Tournament hopes alive.