Victor Bailey Jr. and Santiago Vescovi- South Carolina at Tennessee

Feb 17, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Victor Bailey Jr. (12) and guard Santiago Vescovi (25) react to a play against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee once again put together an impressively inconsistent week of SEC basketball against South Carolina and Kentucky. A short-handed Tennessee team dominated South Carolina in Thompson-Boling Arena before following it up with a blowout home loss to Kentucky on Saturday. 

Here’s how the Vols graded out.

Backcourt

After a demoralizing loss at LSU, Tennessee put together a relatively strong performance against South Carolina. 

Victor Bailey Jr. made his return to the starting lineup against South Carolina after having one of his worst outings of the season against LSU. 

Bailey got back on track with a 29 point performance in which he went 7-for-10 from behind the three-point line and seemed to finally find his offensive stroke once again. 

Jaden Springer had another efficient performance with 16 points on four-of-eight shooting from the field while going eight-for-eight from the free-throw line. He also had three rebounds and five assists. 

For as good as the guard play was against South Carolina, it was that bad against Kentucky. 

Bailey was the only source of consistent offensive production for Tennessee. He had 18 points on 50% shooting from the field and free-throw line. Bailey also went four-for-six from the free-throw line. 

Keon Johnson was able to score 15 points but struggled to score from anywhere other than the free-throw line, where he went six-for-six. He went just four-for-14 from the field and just one-for-five from the three-point range. 

Springer had just four points on two-of-11 shooting from the field. He was able to grab five rebounds.

Bailey was the one consistent starting guard this week while Springer and Johnson traded off subpar performances. 

Grade: B-

Frontcourt 

For Fulkerson and Pons, it was once again a tale of two games when it came to the duo production. 

Against South Carolina, the duo dominated in the paint. 

Fulkerson had 19 points on seven-of-12 shooting from the field while also grabbing six rebounds and dishing out three assists. 

Pons had an equally impressive 10 points on five-of-six shooting and nine rebounds. 

The game was Pons and Fulkerson’s best production as a duo all season but they couldn’t string it together against Kentucky. 

Pons had 10 points against Kentucky but just two rebounds. 

Fulkerson had just four points on one-of-seven shooting from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. 

The inconsistency of Fulkerson and Pons has held Tennessee back all season and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the problem. 

Grade: C+

Offense

Frustrations continued as Tennessee failed to put two good offensive games together in a row. 

Tennessee dominated in the first half against South Carolina scoring 50 points. Tennessee shot 53% from the field and 46% from behind the three-point line. Tennessee didn’t take its foot off the gas in the second half, shooting 55% from the field and 50% from behind the three-point line to finish with 93 points. 

Tennessee was able to score in transition as they turned defense into offense and scored 25 points off of South Carolina’s 18 turnovers. 

The Kentucky game was the complete opposite for Tennessee. 

Tennessee shot just 32% from the line and 27% from behind the three-point line and a horrific 8% from behind the three-point line in the second half. 

Tennessee was outrebounded 43-31 and struggled to find any success in the paint. 

Bench play gave Tennessee’s offense no help as it scored just four points against Kentucky. 

Grade: C+

Defense 

Tennessee’s reign of defensive dominance has been pushed to the side as of late. 

South Carolina shot 40% from the field and 41% from behind the free-throw line along with a 91% free throw percentage to score 73 points. 

Tennessee also gave up another 20 point scorer as A.J. Lawson was the latest player to break down the Tennessee defense. 

Lawson went eight-for-20 from the field and four-of-ten from behind the three-point line. Lawson also had four rebounds. 

Kentucky scored 70 points on 40% shooting from the field and 50% shooting from behind the three-point line. 

Davion Mintz had an impressive day as he scored 15 on five of seven shooting from behind the three-point line along with four rebounds. 

Isaiah Jackson also made Tennessee pay with 16 points on 40% shooting from the field while going eight for nine from the free-throw line. Jackson also used his athleticism to grab seven rebounds. 

Tennessee missed Josiah Jordan James defensively this week and it resulted in two bland and out of character defensive performances. 

Grade: B-

Bench 

Without James coming off of the bench, production took a massive dip for Tennessee this week. 

Santiago Vescovi was the best producer off of the bench for Tennessee. He had eight points on two of seven shooting with two made free throws against South Carolina. He also had five rebounds and five assists. 

Vescovi was, like his teammates, not good against Kentucky either. He had just two points, four assists and five rebounds. 

Olivier Nkamhoua and Davonte Gaines were the only other players to get significant playing time against South Carolina and Kentucky. Neither was able to take advantage of their time on the court. 

Nkamhoua had just two points and six rebounds combined over the last two games. 

Gaines was able to make important hustle plays but on the stat sheet, he wasn't able to do much. He had zero points over the two games and just one rebound. 

Tennessee desperately needs James back to give it a different avenue of production. 

Grade: C- 

Coaching 

Tennessee has been reliving the same nightmare for multiple weeks now, finding a dominant win and then following it up with a loss that makes the viewer scratch its head. 

Rick Barnes is trying to pull his team out of this funk with different rotations but at this point, this might not be something he can fix.

Tennessee will need its players to break out their mental block and step up to the plate if they want to be playing deep into March. 

Grade: B

Overall 

Tennessee has become consistently inconsistent in its play this season and at this point, it's just who they are. 

Fulkerson’s inability to produce in the paint and the lack of a post player on the bench who can produce are problems that Tennessee probably won’t be able to fix at this point. 

Tennessee will have to continue to rely on Springer and Johnson for the majority of its offensive production and hope James can get back in the lineup soon to reclaim his role as Tennessee’s third scoring option. 

Grade: C+

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