Tennessee’s inconsistent play during the conference schedule continued, hitting a new low this week in a road win over Vanderbilt and road loss to Auburn.
The Vols faced a pair of undermanned squads as Vanderbilt was without its two best players, Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu, and Auburn was without its best player, Sharife Cooper. However, Tennessee didn’t look crisp against the weakened conference foes, pulling ahead late to beat the Commodores and falling to the Tigers.
Here’s how the Vols’ graded out.
Tennessee started the same backcourt in both games this week, tagging Victor Bailey Jr. with freshmen duo Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson.
Springer was one of the few bright spots for the Vols on the week, scoring 20 points in each contest on a combined 11-of-22 shooting from the field and three-of-six shooting from three-point range.
The freshman from Charlotte also spent more time at point guard this week than he has all season, recording eight assists on the week.
Keon Johnson turned in one of his worst games as of late against the Commodores, scoring just six points on one-of-six shooting. Johnson also struggled taking care of the basketball, turning it over six times in Nashville.
Johnson was significantly better at Auburn, tying for a game high 24 points while shooting nine-of-17 from the field. The freshman also didn’t turn the ball over in the loss.
Bailey was one of the few Vols who played well offensively at Vanderbilt, turning in his fourth straight strong game, scoring 21 points on 14 shots and five-of-eight shooting from three-point range.
The Oregon transfer hit three triples against Auburn, scoring nine points, but struggled badly on defense, helping lead to a plethora of breakdowns in the second half.
Tennessee got the strong play on both ends of the court that it was looking for from senior Yves Pons on the week while John Fulkerson’s struggles continued.
Pons scored 10 points in both games, shooting four-of-eight from the field in each. The only offensive area Tennessee needs more production from Pons is his ability to get to the charity stripe.
The France native was great on the glass and defensive end, recording 18 rebounds and two blocks on the week.
Fulkerson stayed on the back burner of the Vols’ offense, scoring just eight points on four-of-six shooting. The senior from Kingsport tallied just seven rebounds and struggled taking care of the ball against Auburn, turning it over four times.
Tennessee reached 70 points on both games last week, a solid number on its own, but the Vols remained inconsistent against two of the worst five defenses in the SEC.
Against Vanderbilt, the Vols had multiple long scoreless streaks and struggled to score against the undermanned Commodores. Tennessee shot a solid 45% from the field, but struggled from three-point range, six-of-19, while also turning it over 17 times.
The Vols did a better job taking care of the ball against Auburn, but were far from great, turning it over 13 times.
Auburn was prepared for the Vols’ offensive sets and Tennessee struggled to get good shots in the first half against the Tigers. Still, Tennessee stayed in striking distance with six-of-12 from beyond the arc.
The Vols were more productive in the second half, scoring 42 points while shooting 44% from the field and 12-of-23 from two-point range.
Given its production for most of the season, Tennessee’s defense was a disappointment this week, especially considering Vanderbilt was without its two best offensive options and Auburn was without by far its best offensive option.
Without 50% of their season scoring, the Commodores turned to the long ball, with 33 of their 54 shots coming from beyond the arc.
Vanderbilt made 13 of its triples, doing enough to keep them in the game as the Vols’ offense struggled. Still, you can’t be too upset with giving up just 58 points.
Against Auburn is where Tennessee really struggled. In the Tigers’ four previous SEC games without Cooper, the Tigers averaged 67.25 points per game. Against the Vols they scored 77 points thanks to strong offensive rebounding and dribble-drive penetration.
After struggling offensively in the first half, Auburn came alive in the second half, scoring 43 points on 50% shooting from the field.
Auburn also recorded 16 offensive rebounds and 19 second chance points.
Despite Josiah Jordan James returning from injury, Tennessee’s bench production was dysmal on the week.
Santiago Vescovi struggled against Vanderbilt, scoring just three points and one assist. The sophomore was more effective against Auburn, recording six points and two assists. Vescovi’s play wasn’t overly effective on the week, but was still Tennessee’s best player coming off the bench.
James was awful offensively, scoring just two total points on one-of-11 shooting. The sophomore added 10 rebounds and three assists on the week, but Tennessee will need more from him down the stretch if they want to make a run in March.
In the frontcourt, Olivier Nkamhoua played solid recording four points and three rebounds but earned only eight minutes of play.
E.J. Anosike and Drew Pember combined for just four minutes.
Tennessee’s play continues to reel and get worse-and-worse each week. While a lot of the issues the Vols have are related to things beyond Rick Barnes’ control like the struggles of a preseason All-SEC player John Fulkerson. However, the team’s regression falls on Barnes’ shoulders.
Saturday’s loss at Auburn also marked the sixth straight to Bruce Pearl in the Tigers. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Vols’ first strong season under Barnes, Tennessee is 1-9 against LSU and Auburn and 50-17 against the rest of the SEC.
The Vols’ issues against teams that play up tempo offenses and want to shoot a plethora of threes is more than just a fluke, but a problem in Tennessee’s style of basketball.
Tennessee has more talent than both Vanderbilt and Auburn. Given the missing pieces for both teams, the Vols going 1-1 and not looking particularly good in either game is a disappointment.
The 1-1 week marked the fourth straight week Tennessee has split its two games as the Vols are 6-6 in their last 12 games.
If Tennessee wants to avoid a short stint in the SEC and NCAA Tournament they need to figure out some of its prevailing issues in its week off before hosting Florida in the regular season finale Sunday, particularly cleaning up its turnover and rebounding issues.