Vols vs Ole Miss
Tennessee's Uros Plavsic (34) moves past Ole Miss' Blake Hinson (0) to shoot for two at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, January 22, 2020.

Tennessee’s week on the hardwood saw the Vols host one of the SEC’s worst teams while also traveling to one of college basketball’s meccas.

Tennessee picked up an easy win over a struggling Ole Miss squad before traveling to Kansas and falling to the No. 3 Jayhawks, 74-68.

Here’s how the Vols graded out.

Backcourt

Jordan Bowden continued to move out of his slump this week turning in a solid performance against Ole Miss before dominating the second half in Lawrence Saturday. The Knoxville native scored 11 points on 3 of 8 shooting against Ole Miss while dishing out a pair of assists.

Tennessee got the Jordan Bowden it expected this season against Kansas as Bowden scored 19 points and went 3 of 5 from beyond the arc in the six-point loss. Bowden’s performance is made even more impressive by the fact that he only played 27 minutes and scored all of his points in the second half after sitting out most of the first with foul trouble.

Santiago Vescovi was rather pedestrian in the midweek win over Ole Miss, scoring just three points and dishing out four assists in the win. However, Vescovi played one of his most complete games at Kansas scoring nine points while recording five rebounds and three assists.

Vescovi struggled on the defensive end at Kansas as the Jayhawks athletic guards often took it right at the freshman.

Most impressively for Vescovi on the week was that he recorded just two turnovers, both coming against Ole Miss. Going to Kansas and not turning the ball over in 32 minutes is an impressive feat for Vescovi and shows how much he’s grown in the past few weeks.

It was a tale of two games for Josiah-Jordan James on the week. James played solid against Ole Miss scoring 11 points, though on an inefficient 3-for-10 shooting display, and dished out six assists without turning it over.

James was horrid in Saturday’s loss at Kansas not scoring while turning it over six times. The freshman did record four assists and seven rebounds in the matchup.

Grade: B-

Frontcourt

It was a great week for the Vols’ starting front court as John Fulkerson and Yves Pons each starred in games this week.

Fulkerson recorded his second double-double of the season in Tuesday’s win over Ole Miss, scoring 18 points on 7 of 8 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Fulkerson played well again in Lawrence matching up with Jayhawks star Udoka Azubuike. Fulkerson played a big role in getting Azubuike in foul trouble in the first half before finishing with 15 points and 12 rebounds for his second double-double of the week.

Pons didn’t have his offense going against Ole Miss as the junior scored just six points on seven shots. However, Pons did make his mark on the defensive end blocking three Rebel’s shots.

Pons was Tennessee’s star in the matchup with Kansas scoring a career high 24 points while grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots. Pons also flashed his defensive versatility guarding both Azubuike and Kansas’ star guard, Devon Dotson.

Grade: A

Offense

Tennessee had one of its better weeks on the offensive end of the floor as the Vols scored over 70 points for the first time in SEC play while also scoring 69 points at Kansas.

Tennessee continued its attack against Vanderbilt forcing the ball inside and driving hard to the basket instead of settling for as many 3-pointers.

The Vols shot 5 of 17 from beyond the arc against the Rebels before shooting a solid 6 of 15 against Kansas.

Tennessee put up two of its better field goal percentage outings of the season as the Vols shot 49% against Ole Miss and 45% against Kansas.

Tennessee also took advantage when they got to the free throw line. Tennessee shot an impressive 20 of 24 against Ole Miss before going 12 of 16 in Lawrence. Combined, Tennessee shot 80% from the charity stripe this week.

It’s hard to value just how important it is for this Tennessee team to take advantage of its opportunities at the free throw line, especially considering how few easy baskets this team gets.

Grade: A-

Defense

Tennessee continued its display of lock down defense against a struggling Ole Miss team as the Rebels became the fifth team Tennessee has held to under 50 points on the season.

Tennessee played outstanding defense against the Rebels holding them to 37% shooting from the field and 20% from 3-point range. The Vols also did a great job on the Rebel’s All-SEC talent holding Breein Tyree to just 18 points on 22 shots.

With a significantly more difficult task Saturday Tennessee’s defensive production dropped. The Jayhawks scored 74 points on 43% shooting from the field. Tennessee did a good job guarding the 3-point line in Lawrence, holding the Jayhawks to 24% shooting.

In the end, Tennessee didn’t have enough to slow down Kansas’ stars Dotson and Azubuike as the duo combined for 40 of the Jayhawks 74 points.

Tennessee did struggle on the defensive glass on the week allowing 10 second chance opportunities against Kansas and 14 against Ole Miss.

Grade: B+

Bench

Tennessee got great bench production against Ole Miss where 12 total players saw minutes, and three bench players saw 10 or more minutes.

Olivier Nkamhoua had perhaps his best game of the season against the Rebels scoring 10 points while grabbing four rebounds and blocking a pair of shots.

Jalen Johnson also played well against the Rebels, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds in 21 minutes of work.

Uroš Plavšić saw 11 minutes off the bench against Ole Miss and scored four points on 2 of 3 shooting.

The Vols weren’t able to get any production from their bench against Kansas as Johnson scored the lone bench point. Johnson was also the only Tennessee player to see double digit minutes as he played 23 in relief of the struggling James.

Nkamhoua saw nine minutes off the bench while Davonte Gaines played eight minutes.

Grade: C+

Coaching

Rick Barnes seems to have his team starting to turn a corner, and there is no better time for it than now. Outside of Tuesday’s matchup with Texas A&M the Vols’ next five games see them face off against some of the SEC’s best while also traveling to Alabama and Mississippi State.

Barnes’ message that they can’t continue to settle for jump shots seems to have really sunk in with this team as the Vols focused on attacking the basket this week.

Tennessee’s conservative 1-2-2 zone continues to pay dividends in making teams use clock coming up the court and limiting time in the half-court offense.

One big question for Barnes, and this team, is whether they can get good minutes from a seventh man off the bench. Jalen Johnson isn’t playing like a super star right now, but he is giving the Big Orange reliable minutes. Getting Plavšić or Nkamhoua to give similar quality minutes off the bench would go a long way.

Grade: A-

Overall

I was pretty confident entering the week that the Vols would split their matchups with Ole Miss and Kansas, but I was impressed with how well Tennessee played.

The Vols beat the brakes off of the Rebels and gave Kansas a legit 40-minute game on the road. Whether Tennessee can play like that consistently is yet to be seen but it would go a long way for this team’s NCAA Tournament chances if they did.

I think this week was the best Tennessee’s played since Lamonté Turner was ruled out for the season. If the Vols can repeat how they played this past week against Texas A&M and at Mississippi State, they’ll have a great chance to pick up two conference wins.

That would put Tennessee 6-2 in SEC play just under the halfway mark before they embark on a brutally difficult second half of conference play.

Grade: A-

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