I don’t know about you, but I had an amazing time watching Tennessee football beat Kentucky on Saturday night. It was a blast to see the Vols pick up a top 25 win on the road against a hated rival, but I can also say this with confidence: that was one of the most stressful Vol football games I think I’ve ever watched.
New head coach Josh Heupel’s system is not for the faint of heart. It’s a fast and high-flying roller coaster ride that allows Heupel’s team to score in bunches. But it also has its downsides. The pace of the offense hurts his defense at times and when the offense isn’t clicking, almost no time is run off the clock and the momentum of the game can flip quickly.
I didn’t know what exactly to expect from Heupel’s system before the season began and now that I’ve seen it, I kind of feel about it like I would feel about a crazy girlfriend: It’s fun and exciting, but it also makes me really nervous.
With that in mind, let’s talk now about Tennessee basketball and Rick Barnes. I went to Tuesday night’s season-opening blowout win over UT Martin. It was a pretty standard tune-up game, all the newcomers looked solid and I think the team should be very good this year, but one new element was very noticeable right from the beginning: The Vols attempted almost every open shot that they had and in doing that they shot A TON of three-pointers. 40 to be exact. And they made 17 of those 40 (about 43%).
But Tuesday’s long-range assault was not a one-time phenomenon. During the Vols’ exhibition game against Lenoir-Rhyne on October 30th, UT shot 47 threes. They also made 17 in that game. Oh, and I guess I should mention that 17 made threes in a single regular-season game is a Tennessee school record.
This is a new and extremely interesting approach from Rick Barnes, if he decides to continue with it throughout the season. Last year in 2020, the Vols averaged 19.9 three-point attempts per game and that number was 19.3 in 2019. Barnes has never had a Tennessee team that averaged more than 22.6 three-point attempts per game. Through one exhibition and one regular-season game in 2021, Barnes’ team is now averaging 43.5 attempts per contest.
The risks and rewards of this strategy are pretty obvious. If you’re hitting from three, you can get up quick and stay ahead. If you’re having an off night, and let’s not forget that three-pointers are a lower-percentage shot, things can get out of hand fast. It’s a two-edged sword, much like Josh Heupel’s breakneck offense on the gridiron.
Perhaps Barnes was inspired by the aggressive spirit of Heupel’s system. Or maybe Barnes just wants to freshen up his strategy with a relatively new set of players.
Either way, I’m intrigued.
This football season has already been a ton of fun and I’m expecting the same and more from Barnes and the BasketVols. The b-ball squad is currently ranked No. 18 in America and I think they have legitimate Final Four potential. Here’s hoping that this new three-point-centered strategy finally takes us to the basketball promised land.
Featured image via Bryan Lynn/Calvin Mattheis-News Sentinel/USA TODAY Sports via Imagn