The Vols vs. LSU

Tennessee's head basketball coach Rick Barnes watches the the Tennessee and LSU basketball game on Saturday, January 4, 2020 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tennessee’s two games on the week saw polar opposite results as the Vols were blown out at Georgia before returning to the volunteer state and picking up a win 21-point win at Vanderbilt.

Tennessee turned in a weak defensive effort in Athens where the Vols took 24 3-pointers before shooting just eight and holding Vanderbilt to 45 points in Saturday’s matchup.

Here’s how the Vols graded out.

Backcourt

Rick Barnes was very critical of his backcourt following the Georgia loss for both their defensive effort and their inability to push the Vols' offense and put pressure on the Bulldog's defense.

Barnes called his team “soft” for the defensive effort against Georgia as the Bulldogs’ physical guards pushed Tennessee around and the Vols had no answers for Georgia’s dribble drive offense.

Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi took a combined 10 3-pointers in the game, and while they hit four, it was the mindset they brought that Barnes was disappointed in. Jordan Bowden struggled from beyond the arc too as the senior went 0 of 5 in Athens.

Tennessee’s offensive mindset flipped against Vanderbilt as the Big Orange attempted just eight 3-pointers in the win. Barnes credited the amount of tape they watched between games as to how his message got through to his team.

Bowden seemingly broke out of his slump against the Commodores scoring a game high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting to end his career in Memorial Gymnasium with a 4-0 record.

James shot wasn’t falling in Nashville, but the freshman guard did a lot of good things for the Vols. James grabbed nine rebounds, dished out five assists and blocked two shots while adding six points.

Vescovi struggled early with Vanderbilt’s trap defense turning it over twice in the game’s first minutes but settled nicely finishing with five turnovers, five points and two assists.

Grade: B-

Frontcourt

Tennessee’s starting front court was mostly non-existent in Wednesday’s loss at Georgia. John Fulkerson took just two shots and grabbed four rebounds in the loss.

Yves Pons was more involved, but struggled mightily on the offensive end against the Bulldogs. Pons scored eight points on 4 of 13 shooting including a 0 of 5 effort from 3-point range. Pons still did some things well against Georgia grabbing eight rebounds and blocking a pair of shots.

The duo was also outplayed by Georgia’s Rayshaun Hammonds who scored 21 points.

The duo wasn’t outstanding against Vanderbilt, but they were both very effective in the road win. Fulkerson came out way more aggressive against the Commodores attempting double digits shots for the second time this season. Fulkerson did a little bit of everything in the state’s capitol scoring 12 points while recording eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Pons was a human highlight reel against Vanderbilt blocking four shots and having two monster slams. The France native ended with 12 points.

Grade: B

Offense

Tennessee’s offensive struggles continued on the week as the Vols faced two of the worst three defenses in the SEC.

Tennessee didn’t do a whole lot to take advantage, scoring 63 points at Georgia and 66 at Vanderbilt.

Tennessee shot just 34% in the first half against Georgia, missing two easy layups contributing to a big halftime deficit.

Georgia’s defense loosened up a bit in the second half and Tennessee was able to get its shooting percentage to 40%. The Vols shot just 23% from the 3-point range in the loss.

Tennessee’s offensive first half at Vanderbilt wasn’t much better as the Vols scored just 21 points and ended the first half on a near seven-minute scoring drought.

Tennessee was able to flip the script in the second half using defense to generate offense. Tennessee scored 45 points in the second half on 67% shooting from the field.

The Vols’ 14 assists in the win were the second most they have recorded in SEC play this season.

Grade: C-

Defense

Barnes called the Vols’ defense soft following the Georgia game as Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds gave the Vols all sorts of problems.

The Bulldogs shot 47% from the field while making 10 3-pointers in the win. Georgia also attacked the basket hard and shot 20 free throws to Tennessee’s two.

Anthony Edwards went for a game high 26 points while Hammonds added 21.

Aided by a horrific Commodores offense, Tennessee’s defense dominated Vanderbilt. With Aaron Nesmith injured, Vanderbilt doesn’t have any difference makers on offense and that showed Saturday as only two Commodores scored over four points.

Tennessee held Vanderbilt to just 24% shooting from the field and ended the Commodore’s 1,080 game streak of making a 3-pointer. The streak was the longest in the nation, stretching back to 1986.

Vanderbilt’s 0 of 25 mark from beyond the arc was the most attempted 3-pointers without a make in SEC history.

The Commodores turned it over 17 times as they struggled with pressure defense.

Grade: B+

Bench

Tennessee’s bench didn’t provide too much on the week despite gaining a needed boost in depth. Uroš Plavšić flashed some offensive talent scoring nine points but struggled at times on defense as teams attacked him with high ball screens.

Jalen Johnson ate up 36 minutes off the bench, but his shooting struggled scoring seven points on 1 of 4 shooting from beyond the arc.

Olivier Nkamhoua also saw quality time off the bench recording eight points in seven rebounds in 26 combined minutes.

Drew Pember and Davonte Gaines saw minutes sparingly on the week.

Grade: C

Coaching

Tennessee clearly didn’t have the energy or fight to play Wednesday night in Athens, but they credit Barnes for the bounce back performance in Nashville.

Tennessee clearly attacked the basket more and settled for less 3-pointers in the win over Vanderbilt. Whether they will be able to consistently attack the basket is yet to be seen, but Saturday was a good sign, even if it was just from a mentality standpoint.

Tennessee also threw a 1-2-2 press defense at Vanderbilt that clearly gave the Commodores problems. It’s something Tennessee hadn’t run this season and Barnes pulled it out at the perfect time.

Grade: B+

Overall

Tennessee won a game it was supposed to win and lost one it was supposed to lose on the week. They won by more and lost by more than they were supposed to, but it was a week that was expected.

The second half verse Vanderbilt was the best Tennessee’s played since the Washington game in mid-November. However, the Commodores are the worst team in the SEC and perhaps one of the worst power five teams in the country.

Nevertheless, the energy and life the Vols showed Saturday was necessary going forward, as was the emphasis on attacking the basket.

This week could be much of the same as Tennessee faces an Ole Miss team that’s 0-4 in SEC play and has a weekend matchup at No. 6 Kansas in the SEC/Big 12 challenge.

Grade: B

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