South Carolina Upstate at Tennessee

Dec 23, 2020; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers forward John Fulkerson (10) and guard Santiago Vescovi (25) and guard Victor Bailey Jr. (12) and guard Josiah-Jordan James (5) and guard Yves Pons (35) before the game against the USC Upstate Spartans at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

No. 7 Tennessee is still undefeated in the 2020-2021 season after two more mostly dominant wins against Saint Joseph’s and USC Upstate. The Vols were up to their old tricks this week with solid defense and efficient offense in their final tune-up games before SEC play. 

Here’s how the Vols graded out against Saint Joseph’s and USC Upstate. 

Backcourt

Once again the Vols backcourt led the way this week. Tennessee relied on its guards heavily for success against Saint Joseph’s and USC Upstate. 

Josiah Jordan James continues to be the Vols best all-around player as he’s improved his shot on the offensive end and was up to the task as he usually is on defense. 

On the week James scored just 18 points while shooting 50% from the field. He might not have dominated the game in the points department but he stuffed the stat sheet in other ways. 

James had 15 rebounds on the week, seven against Saint Joseph’s and eight against USC Upstate. He also had six assists, three steals and two blocks in the Vols two wins. 

Victor Bailey Jr. continued to be the Vols’ steadying presence on the court in their two wins this past week. 

Bailey had 36 points on the week, scoring 18 points against the Hawks and Spartans. Bailey shot 59% from the field over both games while leading the team in scoring as well. 

Santiago Vescovi got back into an offensive rhythm this week after struggling to find his shot last week. 

Vescovi scored 16 points against Saint Joseph’s and nine points against USC Upstate. He also shot 49% from the field and 50% from behind the three-point line. 

Vescovi’s 13 assists on the week helped the Vols offense continue to play at an efficient level. He leads the team with 28 assists through six games. 

As the Vols move into SEC play they’ll need their backcourt to continue leading the way. 

Grade: A

Frontcourt

The search for consistency is still in progress for the Vols frontcourt. John Fulkerson and Yves Pons both had bright spots this week but have still struggled to put together a complete 60 minutes as a duo. 

Against the Hawks, Fulkerson scored 10 points while shooting 60% from the field and going four for four from the free-throw line. Fulkerson also had six rebounds and five assists. 

Fulkerson had another efficient outing against the Spartans, scoring 10 points once again while grabbing 6 rebounds and going six for six from the free-throw line. 

Pons had his best game of the season against the Hawks, scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He shot 62% from the field and went two for two from the free-throw line. 

Against the Spartans, Pons struggled to carry over his strong play from the previous game. Pons scored just five points and only grabbed two rebounds. 

As the Vols step into conference play, they'll need their frontcourt to take their game to the next level. 

Grade: B+

Offense

The Vols kept their offensive momentum going this week with two big wins versus inferior opponents. 

As the Vols have continued to play games they’ve expanded their game on the offensive end and showed their development by once again scoring 100 or more points in a game this season, this time against the Hawks. 

Once again the Vols shot extremely well from the field. Against the Hawks, the Vols shot 50% from the field and against the Spartans, they were able to shoot 56%.

 The three-point shooting took a small dip this week for the Vols as they shot 37% from behind the arc which is a slight decline from last week's 40%. 

The Vols were able to turn defense into offense as they scored 44 points off of their opponent's turnovers this week.

Speaking of taking care of the ball. Tennessee had 22 turnovers on the week which is an increase from last week’s 13. The Vols had 10 against Saint Joseph’s and 12 against USC Upstate. 

Grade: A-

Defense 

After a hectic schedule of games in a short time frame, the Vols started to wear down physically and it showed in their defense. 

The Vols were still able to hold their opponents to an average of 63 points per game and just 33% from the three-point line. 

The Hawks 66 points are the most scored on the Vols this season, the Spartans 60 points are the second most. 

The Vols were able to force 18 turnovers against the Hawks and 15 against the Spartans. 

The time off for the holiday break will give the Vols time to get their legs back under them which means they should be ready to roll on the defensive end when they start SEC play against Missouri. 

Grade: A-

Bench

E.J. Anosike continued the ascension of his game against Saint Joseph’s and USC Upstate. 

Against the Hawks, Anosike had his statistically best game as a Vol so far this year. He had nine points on two-of-three shooting from the field and five-of-six shooting from the free-throw line. Anosike also grabbed five rebounds, four of which were offensive rebounds. 

Anosike struggled early against the Spartans as most Vols did, but the grad transfer never seemed to be able to get his game going. He scored five points, shooting two-of-three from the field and grabbing two rebounds. He still brought his leadership and veteran presence every time he touched the court which helped the Vols secure the 20 point win. 

Olivier Nkamhoua had a breakout game this week that showed the upside he has if he can consistently play his game. Nkamhoua had nine points on four-of-four shooting from the field in 13 minutes against USC Upstate. He also added a block and a steal to his stat line. 

The Vols freshmen had an up and down week that showed them what they can improve on in the preparation aspect of their game. 

Against Saint Joseph’s Keon Johnson scored 12 points in 21 minutes along with dishing out five assists. He also was a force on the defensive end, grabbing three steals and using his athleticism to create two blocks.

Jaden Springer also played 21 minutes and he scored 10 points on two-of-six shooting from the field and went four for four from the free-throw line along with his three rebounds. 

The Vols had a quick turnaround between the Saint Joseph’s game and the USC Upstate game which Rick Barnes suggested might have taken a toll on the freshmen. 

Springer had nine points and four rebounds but went just three-of-eight from the field against the Spartans. 

Johnson had just four points in 16 minutes of play and added only three rebounds to his usually stuffed stat sheet. 

“The younger guys struggled tonight,” Barnes said. “I think they struggled from a preparation standpoint. I don't think they've had to go through at any point in their young careers where they've had to grind like this both mentally and physically. They just didn't have the sting they normally have.” 

Grade: B+

Coaching

Coaching continues to be one of the strong points of this team as Rick Barnes and his staff seem to be pulling the right strings at the right times. 

The Vols were able to easily get past Saint Joseph’s by sticking to their game-plan of playing inside-out basketball and they turned it into a 102-66 victory. 

Against the Spartans, the Vols seemed to struggle at some points of the game but as frustrating as the game might have been for the Vols they still pulled out a 20 point victory and were never in any real danger throughout the game. 

Expect a coach the quality of Rick Barnes to use the game against USC Upstate as a valuable teaching tool as the Vols prepare for two games a week in conference play. 

Grade: A+

Overall 

The Vols were able to gain some valuable experience in wins this week against opponents who give them matchups they aren’t used to. 

The key for the Vols before they jump into SEC play is rest and they got plenty of it, having not played since Dec. 23 and not playing again until Dec. 30.

Next up for the Vols is a top 20 matchup at Missouri on Dec. 30 that’s scheduled for 9:00 p.m. ET tipoff on SEC Network. 

Grade: A

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