Tennessee fought hard for forty minutes, but ultimately fell short against the 11th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks in Orlando, Florida on Friday afternoon. The Jayhawks presented a litany of challenges not yet seen by this young Volunteers squad in 2014, but the positives far outweighed the negatives in this game.
Here are five takeaways from Tennessee’s hard-fought loss:
Rebounding: As has been a problem for Tennessee so far this season, the Vols were again beaten badly on the glass on both ends of the floor. Tyndall’s group was doubled up by the Jayhawks this afternoon, 44-22, and were rarely able to get more than one shot attempt up on any given possession. The Jayhawks collected 26 defensive rebounds, while the Vols were only able to snag 11 themselves. This led to very few second-chance points for Tennessee and a lot of extra/extended possessions for Kansas – especially late in the second half when the Vols were trying to claw back into the game. This team is clearly limited from an overall height perspective, but unless they focus more on positioning and effort on the boards they will continue to get beat on the glass by the more physical teams on their schedule.
Carry the Fight: A loss is a loss, and no coach is likely to ever say otherwise, but Donnie Tyndall has to be proud of the way his team fought for 40 minutes in this game. Twice – once in each half – the Vols were able to claw back from a double-digit deficit and create a one-possession game against Kansas – a team that they really had no business competing with in terms of what the national perception of each team was when the season began. The Vols looked like they belonged on the court today, and routinely out-efforted the Jayhawks during the course of the game. The final score will forever be listed as 15-point loss for Tennessee, but this was a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.
1-3-1 zone: The commentators mentioned it, and national pundits have started to take notice, but the 1-3-1 zone that Donnie Tyndall employs is going to be a very difficult one for teams to prepare for as this team gets more comfortable running it. Credit Kansas and Bill Self for knocking down shots and recognizing/finding ways to exploit some of the weaknesses of the zone, but this defense gave the Jayhawks fits today. Because this defense is so unconventional, teams will have to change up their game plans each weak before facing Tennessee. Unlike traditional man-to-man defenses or 2-3 zone looks, the 1-3-1 is a little more difficult to scheme for – especially if given only a couple of days to prep. It may seem like a very small difference in philosophy, but with so many schools across the country running the same defenses, this unique look that Tennessee will give other teams should prove advantageous on numerous occasions over the course of a season.
Big Dom: He’s not there yet, but Dominic Woodson showed some flashes of his potential today. The 6’10, 290 pound transfer from Memphis has been slow to get going this season – injuries and conditioning the primary culprits – but the big man was finally able to showcase his skill set this afternoon against a quality opponent. He only got 10 minutes of playing time today, but he impacted shots, grabbed a couple rebounds and had back-to-back buckets in the second half after using a couple of post-moves that opened up some room in the paint. Don’t get me wrong, Woodson still has a long way to go, but the potential is there. As he gets into better shape and gains confidence in this offensive/defensive system, there is no reason to think that he couldn’t turn into a 20 or 25-minute player by the time late-December/early-January roll around.
Kevin Punter: Another player who has been a little slower to come on than some had expected is JUCO transfer Kevin Punter. Punter has a smooth stroke and the ability to score points in bunches when he’s getting off quality shots, but hasn’t shown the level of consistency that the staff was hoping for. Punter took a huge step forward against the Jayhawks and scored a season-high 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Tennessee desperately needs another scorer to emerge alongside Josh Richardson if they hope to compete for anything more than a middle-of-the-pack finish in the SEC. Kevin Punter and Detrick Mostella – 13 points in this game – have each shown the ability to score points in bunches, but they both need to start doing it consistently for this team to reach its potential.