The Vols dropped their season-opener with VCU by an 85-69 margin. Tennessee trailed by 18 at the half, but battled back in the second half to cut the VCU lead to eight on several occasions. Here are six observations from Tennessee’s first game of the season.
Turnovers – The Good and Bad: Tennessee had 14 turnovers in the first half, leading to 22 VCU points. The Rams led the nation in turnovers forced last season (18.2 per game), so that shouldn’t be a surprise. To Tennessee’s credit, they cleaned things up and turned it over just five times in the second half. More than anything, their ability to take care of the ball resulted in UT cutting an 18-point halftime deficit to eight on multiple occasions. Tennessee’s 19 turnovers were three more than their single-game high last season (16), but they also caused 18 turnovers, two more than their single-game high last year.
Get used to higher turnover numbers across the board. Tyndall’s system will force them and his lack of a true point guard will cause them. Tennessee turned it over 18 times against Pikeville, an NAIA school, last Monday – 19 total turnovers against a team like VCU isn’t a terrible number given the circumstances.
Free Throw & 3-point Shooting Abysmal: Shots just didn’t fall for the Vols tonight. They were 4-17 from 3-point range (23.5%) despite getting some good looks. Tennessee was also an anemic 17-33 from the charity stripe (51.5%). Tyndall’s last Southern Miss squad led the conference in free throw percentage. You can count on the Vols getting things straightened out at the line as the season progresses. His Southern Miss teams also led the conference in 3-point shooting percentage the last two seasons.
Tennessee isn’t a terrible shooting team. Many of their shots were close and they’ve been falling in practice. Nerves may have played a role tonight. I doubt you’ll see the Vols shoot this poorly again this season. At the very least, it shouldn’t consistently be an issue.
Mostella Shines: Tennessee’s talented freshman burst onto the scene with a 17-point performance in 22 minutes of play, tying the scoring output of Josh Richardson for the Vol lead. Mostella had three of UT’s four makes from 3-point range (3-8). He was also 4-6 from the free-throw line and 2-5 from two. His emergence in Tennessee’s first game as a viable scoring option is certainly good news for the Vols moving forward. He’s likely to disappear at times, but he can score in bunches and will be a weapon this season.
Hubbs Struggles: Back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the majority of last season, Robert Hubbs III was timid for much of the night. He recorded just four points in 19 minutes. Though he’s been a much improved player in practice, but has to be more aggressive in games. Ability isn’t an issue for Hubbs – it’s easy to forget he was playing in just his 13th collegiate game tonight. He’s still finding his way. If practice is any indication, he’ll be a big contributor for Tennessee at some point this year.
No Quit in the Vols: Tennessee trailed by as many as 20 points in the second half, but they never quit. They battled back to cut the VCU lead to eight points on multiple occasions. The young Vols have clearly bought in to Tyndall and his system. They battled and battled despite playing against a squad with more experience and talent.
Refs Still Terrible: There were 62 fouls called and 73 free throws attempted tonight. That’s ludicrous. The game had no rhythm. Four players fouled out, including three Vols, and three other players had four fouls at the game’s end. Josh Richardson rarely gets frustrated publicly, but the last two fouls called against him caused him to nearly erupt on official Tony Greene. The NCAA has an officiating problem. Incompetence and inconsistency is plaguing officiating nation wide. It’s unacceptable and should be addressed.
The Vols play Texas Southern in Knoxville next Thursday. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 7 pm and it will be televised by Fox Sports Net.