No. 6 Tennessee unofficially started its season off on Wednesday night with an 87-48 win over Tusculum.
The Vols dominated in the first half of the game, holding the Pioneers to just 14 first half points. Offensively, Tennessee shot 50-percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes and 55.6-percent from three. In the second half, the Vols would continue to shoot a high percentage from the field, but Rick Barnes was very disappointed with how his team came out after halftime.
“The biggest disappointment is you give up 14 points in the first half and 30 in the second half,” Barnes said following the win. “We were wanting to see if we could sustain it, and we didn’t do that.”
Barnes’ disappointment post-game is fair. Tennessee wants to win a National Championship this year, and in order to do so, the Vols are going to have to play with the same sense of urgency for 40 minutes every night. They can’t just settle for a “W” in the win column. Championship-level teams play to their standard, not the scoreboard.
“We’re a veteran team now, and veteran teams don’t let that happen,” Barnes said. “Even though we talk about being a veteran team, that’s the sign of an immature team. It’s not about talent wining this game, but you go into this game with what we said to them last night, let’s play better.
“Let’s play a better basketball game than they play. In regard to what the score is going to be, that’s not a thing our talent is going to win. Let’s see if we can play really good basketball. We did at times. Overall, with as much time as we’ve had together, we should be more consistent.”
On Thursday, two CBS sports writers selected Tennessee as one of their final four teams in his annual season predictions for CBS Sports. Those two are just another of many national pundits to select Tennessee to make it to the Final Four. One of the many reasons the Vols have received so much preseason hype is because of the team’s depth.
Tennessee’s bench is as deep as its been in years. It was on full display in the exhibition, as all 15 available players played. Everyone played because of the competition, but in the regular season, Barnes’ rotation is going to consist of 10 guys.
“The fact is I feel very comfortable with this lineup playing 10 guys,” Barnes stated. “We had some lineups out there, and we were doing some things early with some different lineups.
“I think Yves Pons did some good things. I thought that Jalen Johnson did as well. I still think John Fulkerson can do a whole lot more. Derrick Walker is getting better, but you’re still going to go back to your frontline guys. Grant (Williams) in 24 minutes had three rebounds. Kyle Alexander in 19 minutes had seven and blocked three shots. Admiral Schofield had nine points and four rebounds in 26 minutes.”
Though Barnes can reach deep into his bench, one concern that could rear its ugly head this season is point guard depth. Jordan Bone had eight points, five rebounds, and two assists against Tusculum, but after Bone, the Vols don’t have a true point guard on its roster.
The coaching staff prefers Lamonte Turner to play off the ball, though he is capable of running the point. Jordan Bowden is a two-guard, but this season, you’ll probably see quite a bit of the junior running the point.
“We want three guys at least,” Barnes said referring to the point guards. “The fact is, we need that to be able to keep constant pressure. Our whole defense is predicated on trying to keep pressure on the point guard for 40 minutes, and two guys can’t do that the way we want to.”
Bowden played 23 minutes on Wednesday, with a healthy portion coming at the point guard position. He looked good on both ends of the floor, scoring 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting and coming up with two steals on defense.
“This preseason, I’ve been running in and out of the one spot a lot as well as guarding the one,” Bowden said. “That’s one thing I’ve got to keep getting more comfortable at. Once I get comfortable at it, I’ll be good.”
Tennessee’s regular season opener is on Tuesday night against Barnes’ alma-mater, Lenoir Rhyne.