It was a painful watch but the Tennessee Vols basketball team squeaked out a win in overtime again Ole Miss on Wednesday night.
The Big Orange never led for the entirety of regulation and only gained a lead during overtime. Tough games like that aren’t all that surprising during SEC league play but this matchup was somewhat different.
Ole Miss, a team that doesn’t exactly have an impressive resume, had a number of guys out with COVID and only brought out 10 players for the game. Add to that the fact that the game was in Knoxville in front of a home crowd. With all those factors combined, the performance by the Vols was, frankly, abysmal.
And this isn’t the first shockingly rough game for Rick Barnes’ 2021 squad. They got run off the court by Villanova, trailed at halftime against Tennessee Tech, and lost to Texas Tech in a horrific defensive struggle. But, they’ve also looked incredibly efficient and powerful at times. The Vols whipped North Carolina, took care of business on the road at Colorado, and had possibly their best game of the season against an excellent Arizona team.
So, what sets the losses apart from the wins? There’s a number of factors but the most glaringly obvious is Tennessee’s offense.
Generally speaking, the Vols’ defense has been very solid. They’re ranked No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, the team is an unimpressive No. 54 in offensive efficiency.
Considering this disparity, we have to ask: What’s the deal with Vol basketball’s offense?
This team has loads of talent but might be looking at another early tournament exit if they don’t find more consistency. Laying 89 points on UNC but only putting up 53 points against Villanova simply won’t cut it when it’s crunch time in the ever closer-approaching postseason.
A few offensive problems stick out on most nights for UT. They generally struggle to have a true offensive identity. There’s not one element that they just do exceptionally well. Some nights they hit lots of threes, other nights John Fulkerson plays like a monster, but they can’t seem to have similar results in any one facet over multiple games. I think Vol football legend Aaron Hayden summed it up nicely (and hilariously) on Twitter…
UT plays the most boring basketball in the SEC. Looks like old men playing pick up at the church!— Aaron Hayden (@Ran4UT) January 6, 2022
In my opinion, this problem lies largely with Rick Barnes. He has to scheme to put his team in a better position to succeed on the offensive end. To me, this has always been a weakness for Barnes and he’ll need to pull some magic out of his hat to keep his boys from having more nightmarish nights on the offensive end.
In a similar vein but beyond Barnes’ coaching, there’s just no true go-to asset on offense. Grant Williams isn’t walking back through the doors of Thompson-Boling Arena, so, where can the Vols go whenever they desperately need points? Santiago Vescovi has shined at times (his clutch threes lifted the Vols over Ole Miss) and Kennedy Chandler has come up huge in multiple games. But both of those guys have had nights where they completely disappear. The Big Orange need a leader (or two) to step up and become a source of instant offense.
It certainly won’t be easy but a combination of better coaching, better leadership, and better play from the Vols’ roster have to come together for this team to reach its ultimate goal. We’ve seen just how dominant they can be. And an untimely loss in the postseason would be a massive disappointment when we all know that this squad likely has the ability to reach great heights. I’m certain the team knows they need more consistency and here’s hoping they get it all figured out by March.
Featured images via Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel/USA TODAY Sports