Tennessee’s promising season came to an abrupt end in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.
Facing off against Purdue in Louisville, the Vols overcame an 18-point second half deficit but were unable to stave off the Boilermakers in overtime, ending their hopes of making the first Final Four in program history.
Tennessee finished 31-6, posting a 15-3 record in conference play and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.
Here are the final grades from the season as a whole:
Although it had its low points, Tennessee’s backcourt proved to be its sneakiest weapon throughout the season.
Blossoming into one of the country’s best point guards, Jordan Bone posted career-highs in nearly every statistical category while pacing one of the country’s most prolific scoring offenses.
His counterparts didn’t fare too bad either. Jordan Bowden flourished in his new bench role, averaging a career-high in scoring while emerging as a strong candidate for SEC Sixth Man of the Year throughout the season.
Despite dealing with injuries and inconsistency, Lamonte Turner’s proven capability to knock down key shots at important moments gave Tennessee a couple of wins it might have dropped had it not been for the Alabama native.
Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield combined for quite the season once again.
Earning First-Team All-SEC honors, both averaged career-highs in points and efficiency. Both came up big in key moments, and it was only fitting that they buoyed the Vols’ memorable comeback against Kentucky in Nashville.
Williams was named a finalist for the National Player of the Year award and was named a First-Team All-American for the first time.
While foul trouble plagued him for much of conference play and the postseason, Kyle Alexander’s senior season was easily his most impactful, regardless of numbers.
The frontcourt was Tennessee’s greatest asset this season, and while it came up short of its ultimate goal, that can’t be denied.
One of the nation’s most lethal offenses in terms of scoring, the Vols’ ability to put the ball in the basket is one that can’t be questioned.
Tennessee finished third in KenPom’s overall offensive ratings, less than two points below Virginia and Gonzaga. For much of the regular season and tournament, the Vols’ scoring was what it relied on most.
It was not a bad strategy when you have five players that average 10 or more points, but given that the Vols were one of the SEC’s worst 3-point shooting teams, that strategy did not always pay dividends.
Long-distance shooting aside, Tennessee’s offense was easily its best asset this season and was a primary reason it reached over 30 wins.
A year ago, Tennessee made its living off of shutting down the opposition on offense. This season, the story was a little different.
Losing just two players from last year’s team that took home a share of the SEC regular-season championship, the Vols were expected to return to form on the defensive side while maintaining their status as one of the country’s best offenses.
Needless to say, that isn’t how it played out.
Tennessee routinely failed to defend the 3-point line on a consistent basis and dug itself into deep holes as a result. To the Vols’ credit, they were able to climb out of some of those, but towards the end of the regular season the trend began to haunt them.
Tennessee finished 43rd in overall defense, by far the worst of any of the 10 best statistical teams in the nation. At the end of the day, it may have been the reason the Vols are at home and not in Minneapolis.
Outside of Bowden and Turner, no player outside of Tennessee’s starting lineup averaged more than 3.1 points per game.
With the veteran duo of guards rotating starting duties midway through the season, the Vols’ bench unit was off to a hot start to begin conference play. In fact, it was a big reason why they were overcoming opposing crowds on the road.
As the pressure began to rise and the stage got even bigger, Tennessee’s bench shrank with the exception of Bowden.
John Fulkerson struggled to make an impact consistently and Yves Pons was unable to defend at the level he had during non-conference play. Derrick Walker and Jalen Johnson contributed when they could, but their sporadic minutes made it impossible for them to get a rhythm.
Tennessee will certainly be looking for an improvement from its bench going forward, particularly with the loss of Schofield and Alexander.
Entering his fourth year at the helm, Rick Barnes and his staff continued to demonstrate why they are one of the country’s best. Not only did they get the best out of the Vols on a consistent basis, they pushed them to levels this program hadn’t seen in over a decade.
Much of the storyline regarding this season’s difficult ending will be focused on Barnes’ shortcomings on the NCAA Tournament stage, but Tennessee wouldn’t have been in a position to make a deep run had it not been for his teachings.
The Vols came up short on occasion, but for the most part, they were one of the country’s most well-prepared groups. No matter the challenge thrown at them, they typically had an answer.
With Barnes scheduled to be in Knoxville for years to come, Tennessee fans can sleep well at night knowing they have a Hall of Fame coach that’s invested in the continuance of this program’s resurgence.
Tennessee opened up the season ranked No. 6. It reached the top of the AP Top 25 for four consecutive weeks, a feat it had yet to accomplish.
For the second straight year, Williams earned SEC Player of the Year honors, something not done at Tennessee since Dale Ellis in the early 1980s. The Vols also beat Kentucky twice — again.
Despite that, Tennessee fell short in several important categories. It did not repeat as SEC regular-season champions and it failed to claim its first SEC Tournament title since 1979 — something the players openly wanted.
Most importantly, a season that was supposed to end in the Final Four came to a gut-wrenching halt for the second consecutive year — this time in the Sweet 16.
Overall, the Vols have a lot to hang their hats on. Winning more than 30 games is no joke and reaching the level of success they did is rare. However, their goal was to bring home some hardware, and they didn't reach it.