The Vols got off to a slow start and trailed for a good portion of the first half. Robert Hubbs recorded back-to-back steals and slammed them both home to give Tennessee a lead with 8:52 to play in the first half – the Vols never trailed again on the way to a 77-49 exhibition game victory over Lenoir-Rhyne. Tennessee officially opens the season with VCU on Friday. That game tips at 6:37 pm (TV: CBS Sports Network) and will be played in Annapolis, Maryland. Here are five observations from UT’s win over Lenoir-Rhyne.
Turnovers Improved: In their Monday exhibition contest with Pikeville, the Vols turned it over 18 times and forced just 11 turnovers. Tyndall’s squad showed dramatic improvement in that area against Lenoir-Rhyne. The Vols forced 22 turnovers and registered 18 steals – 15 more steals than they recorded Monday. The Vols also cut their turnovers in half. It’s clear the Vols are becoming more comfortable with their press and their half court offense and defense. They closed gaps much quicker and gave up fewer wide open looks than in Monday’s game.
Tennessee’s offense clicked a little better tonight, too. The Vols got some good looks, attacked the rim earlier in the shot clock and took better care of the ball. Josh Richardson had 14 points, following up a 15 point performance Monday, and it doesn’t look like he’ll have any issues scoring while running the offense. He deserves a ton of credit for Tennessee’s low turnover numbers as well – he had one turnover and four steals. Winning the turnover battle will be vital for the team this year and tonight was a step in the right direction.
Crowd Embraces Tempo and Press: Vol fans really seemed to embrace Tennessee’s pace of play. Several back-to-back steals led to some big dunks and that managed to get a somewhat subdued crowd going on multiple occasions. It’s been a while since Tennessee scored points in a hurry. They had 22 fast break points to Lenoir-Rhyne’s six. For the Vols to have a successful season, they’ll need to consistently outscore opponents on the break.
Reese Ready for a Big Role: Derek Reese played in 24 games and averaged 2.4 points per game last season due to both ineffectiveness and injury. He told us he’s “the healthiest and strongest he’s ever been” this season and that is really showing up in his game. Reese started both of Tennessee’s exhibition games and racked up 20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and just three turnovers in 40 minutes of action this week. He’s shown a consistent stroke from beyond the arc this season (practice included) and has improved his ability to score off the bounce. Tyndall praised Reese’s ability to stretch the floor after the game. He may not start every game this season, but he should play a big role as long as he can stay healthy.
Robert Hubbs Fills the Box Score: Back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2013-14 season, Robert Hubbs III hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers this season, but those should come as long as he maintains his aggressive mindset. Hubbs made it a point in the offseason to work on his shot and he has a much more consistent and square shot this season. Though he has yet to hit a 3, when he misses a jump shot he’s just barely missing. If practice is any indication, his shot will start falling soon. He did a good job of attacking the rim tonight and was very active on defense and on the boards. He has 16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three turnovers in 44 minutes on the court this week. Don’t sleep on Hubbs this season. Even when his shot isn’t falling, he has the ability to help the team in other ways. He’s a much more complete and consistent player than we saw at any point last year.
Rotation Shrinking Soon: In all, 12 players saw the court tonight. Tyndall will shrink the rotation to nine or 10 in the VCU game. Devon Baulkman, who has seen significant practice time with Tennessee’s starting unit, was held out of the game with a shoulder injury. Ian Chiles made his Vol debut and played eight minutes. He’s been battling a shoulder and a toe injury but Tyndall would like him to play about four minutes a half to help spell Josh Richardson at point guard. We’ll keep an eye on any potential rotation changes during next week’s practice.