Tennessee basketball is now two weeks in the general direction of next year, No. 3-to-be for Rick Barnes. Wouldn’t it be great to believe good times are just around the corner.
Through my binoculars, the outlook appears much like the past. I hope I am wrong.
The coach said the team that failed in February just wasn’t tough enough, physically or mentally. Fixing that is part of the coach’s job. Careful now. Some psyches are fragile.
Shooting stats made me wonder if the Vols were trying to hit a moving target. Tennessee was No. 282 in America in field goal percentage. It was 301 in three-pointers. The coach is in charge of shooting.
In truth, 16-16 against a good schedule and 8-10 in the Southeastern Conference (if you don’t count the tournament loss) fits Barnes’ recent pattern. In his last four years at Texas, his conference record was 35-37. That’s why he is at Tennessee.
But wait, you say, 8-10 exceeded expectations. Indeed it did, by a basket or two. Experts predicted UT would be next to last in the league. They erred. Effort alone made the team better than that.
For much of the season, the Vols were fun to watch, even with flaws. They started some games as if they didn’t know when was tipoff. They blew big leads but never quit.
February was fatal. Scoring sagged into the 50s. Shooting percentages slipped into the 30s. These were hints of exhaustion. Opponents may actually have read scouting reports and adjusted to what Tennessee could do. The Vols had no place to go. There was no inside game.
Likely 2018 problems:
There is no projected SEC star. No not one. Grant Williams is interesting. If he were two or three inches taller, he wouldn’t be here. He’d be engrossed in March madness.
Tennessee does not have even a mid-level post player. No matter what you hear, there is a place for a good big man.
For some strange reason, young point guards did not develop as expected. The coach seemed surprised. He never stopped searching. The combination of disappointment and no answer means adequate floor leadership is yet to be confirmed.
No question about defensive deficiencies. Guards couldn’t guard guards.
There is no more Robert Hubbs, dearly departed senior. He exceeded a thousand points but left us wondering what might have been.
If the roster holds, Tennessee will have no scholarship seniors, three juniors, four sophomores, two important redshirt freshmen and at least one newcomer who might make a difference.
Barnes may know which player or players will provide leadership. I don’t. Well, Admiral Schofield and Williams might.
The coach may know who will start. I don’t. Williams is one good bet. He was a delight in some games. He will be offered video seminars in what SEC officials are likely to consider a foul.
Jordan Bone has talent and a lot to learn. If Jordan Bowden is going to be a key shooter, he must gain consistency. If John Fulkerson really gets well, if Jalen Johnson gains endurance, if, if, if.
It would be almost wonderful if Tennessee could become a championship contender. John Currie would order the removal of covers that hide empty upper-level seats at Thompson-Boling arena. Enthusiastic crowds would provide a home-court advantage. Foes would fear the Volunteers.
Think how much young players must improve for that to happen. Consider the difference in three-star recruits and what top teams sign.
Incoming Zack Kent, a project in rivals’ eyes, is 6-10 until remeasured. Derrick Walker, 6-8, says he will bring toughness and fast-motor.
The scholarship that once belonged to Detrick Mostella goes to 6-6 young Frenchman Yves Pons. Interesting story: born in Haiti (Port-au-Prince), adopted at age 4 by a French couple, surprisingly mature at 17, genuine international experience, great potential but not nearly ready for prime time.
Thank goodness Barnes, 63 in July, still sees the future. He has tournament history, 22 NCAA appearances. One thought related to returns: A couple of better, bigger players would speed up the process. Tell the recruiters.Marvin West invites reader reactions.
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