Tennessee wrapped up its opening weekend of NCAA Tournament action with victories over Colgate and Iowa to advance to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2014.
Despite the Vols holding double-digit leads in both of those contests, the opposition rallied in the second half both times, with the Hawkeyes forcing overtime and nearly pulling off an upset.
Here’s how Tennessee’s individual groups faired during that span:
Grant Williams didn’t have his best performance against Colgate and Admiral Schofield was quiet in the second half against Iowa, but the Vols’ frontcourt made timely plays in big moments.
Schofield was brilliant down the stretch against the Raiders and Williams’ performance in overtime may have been the sole reason Tennessee advanced to the Sweet 16.
Kyle Alexander didn’t have the most prolific two-game stretch, but he avoided foul trouble and was an instrumental part of Tennessee’s defense down the stretch against the Hawkeyes.
Tennessee’s backcourt was due for some big performances out of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, and it has gotten just that.
Turner has logged 28 points in 76 minutes and continues to hit big shots down the stretch. He’s also making timely defensive plays and Bowden’s confidence boost from last year has been evident, even to the naked eye.
It was Jordan Bone’s performance against Iowa that stood above the rest. In what perhaps gave him nightmarish flashbacks to last year’s loss to Loyola-Chicago, Bone found himself open in the corner with time winding down. He missed, but that didn’t shake his confidence.
When he received the same opportunity to extend Tennessee’s lead in overtime, he would capitalize. If the Vols hope to advance past this weekend, they’ll certainly need the same out of this group going forward.
Offensively, the Vols have yet to put a complete game together since their 19-game win streak came to an end in Lexington.
It appeared Tennessee had found its rhythm in the first half against Iowa as they raced out to a 25-point lead, but that wouldn’t last long. The Vols’ complacency in the second half nearly ended its season, a reality that would have been hard to swallow.
They didn’t fare much better against Colgate, either. At one point down the stretch, the Vols’ lead was cut to one. If not for Admiral Schofield, they could have been sent home in the first round.
There were plenty of bright spots to build upon, but the continued offensive inconsistency will only plague Tennessee going forward.
Tennessee’s bread and butter a year ago, its defense has been somewhat of a detriment to its success all season.
That’s not to say the Vols have played bad defense, as they’ve defended quite well at times. Much like their offense, it’s all about consistency.
Tennessee defended the Hawkeyes at a high level in the first half on Sunday but were bludgeoned on by Iowa’s offense in the second half. A lot of that is credited to the opposition getting hot, but they wouldn’t have that chance if not given open looks.
Tennessee held Colgate and Iowa to a combined 147 points, but those matchups were much closer than they should have been. If the Vols don’t find a way to tweak their game plan on that end, then they could wind up on vacation earlier than originally scheduled.
Rick Barnes was named National Coach of the Year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association on Monday, so it’s hard to think of ways to poke holes in his game plan.
In fact, it’s been difficult to do that since the season began in October.
Barnes and his staff have done a tremendous job pushing Tennessee down the stretch, but what is the message when opposing teams go on game-changing runs?
It’s the coaching staff’s job to galvanize the troops and despite the blown leads this past weekend, Barnes has done quite well in that regard.
It’s hard to criticize a team that is just one of 16 still standing, but Tennessee made that possible with its string of performances in central Ohio.
The Vols’ 25-point lead on Sunday would have tied the NCAA record for largest blown lead in a postseason game, a record the Vols are fortunate not to have solidified with a season-ending loss.
With even more difficult competition ahead, Tennessee will be looking to avoid the same route beginning on Thursday in Louisville.