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By Aston Hutchison
The Tennessee Volunteers(#7) started out the season on a tear by winning 23 of their first 24 games. This is exactly what was expected of the veteran-filled Volunteer roster coming into the 2018-2019 season, after a spectacular run the year before. Then suddenly, the tide began to shift after the Vols got absolutely manhandled in an electrified Rupp Arena on February 16th. This beat down exposed Tennessee and the team has played about as inconsistent as it gets since. So, what happened to the Vols?
Let’s start with the obvious… The reason players like Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Kyle Alexander are still playing college ball and not in the NBA is because they have needed time (and by time, I mean YEARS) to develop their games. So, no wonder the Vols got off to as hot of a start. They have spent the last 2-3 years trying to get to this point while much younger teams have little to no experience at all. What makes you think the Vols have a higher ceiling than what they have already shown?
Tennessee has been on a linear trend getting better with time over the past couple seasons, while other teams have gotten exponentially better in the last couple of months. Veteran teams with absolutely no youth are hit or miss. You may have a Gonzaga(#1) once every blue moon, or on the flip side, you may also have a #1 seed go down to a 16 seed, as we saw with Virginia in 2017-2018. If the Vols entire roster could magically have 2 more years of eligibility, then maybe we could see Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander develop a lethal perimeter game, Bone and Schofield become more consistent, or Turner and Pons develop a higher basketball IQ. Sadly, the Vols do not have this luxury. Instead, they need something to change NOW.
The Time is Now!
March 2nd in Knoxville will either make or break Tennessee’s season. The Vols only have 1 quality win thus far, and if they want to be given any respect by the committee come selection Sunday, then this game against Kentucky(#4) is a must win. If the Vols lose yet again, they will have to win the SEC tournament to even be in the conversation for a 1 or 2 seed. The last time we saw Kentucky and Tennessee on the same floor, Tennessee might as well have just stayed in their hotel room. Kentucky’s P.J. Washington absolutely worked the Vols single-handedly. Washington’s length and athleticism created a matchup nightmare for the Vols on both ends of the floor. To me, this game is going to be determined by the play of THE Admiral Schofield. Grant Williams gets a lot of the spotlight (respectfully so), but we have all seen what happens to the Vols when Admiral doesn’t show up. Grant can have 43 points on 10-15 shooting and 23-23 from the line and the Vols still almost lose to one of the worst teams in college basketball in the Vanderbilt Commodores if Admiral is a no show. The Vols need to be the aggressor and own the paint. It’s time for 6’11 Kyle Alexander to stop playing like Nevil Shed from the 2006 classic movie Glory Road, and actually, play like a MAN in the paint. It’s time for Lamonte Turner to stop being Tennessee’s J.R. Smith equivalent, to play with high IQ, to stop only being only a heat-check shooter, and most importantly be consistent. It’s time for Grant Williams to show he deserves a chance in the NBA by taking it to P.J. Washington up and down the court, as this is the type of length and athleticism he will see on a nightly basis at the next level. It’s time for the Vols to wake up and get back to being the best team in college basketball as they were a month ago. The Tennessee Volunteer’s have everything it takes to win this year’s National Championship. Coach Barnes and the players have to find out a way to show the world that they did not peak too early in the season and that this 2018-2019 Tennessee Volunteers basketball team was built for this moment.