SEC coaches give anonymous opinion of Tennessee basketball

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    College basketball is closing in on the most anticipated March Madness ever. Not because the competition is at an all-time high and the bracket will be filled with several great teams. But because last year’s NCAA Tournament was cancelled.

    With the ‘big dance’ just a couple of weeks away, The Athletic’s Seth Davis spoke with three coaches from each major conference and asked them to provide intel on the top teams in those leagues. Davis granted his sources anonymity so they could be candid. He then took their assessments and combined them into one paragraph for each team.

    Davis’ project included the SEC, which means he asked coaches within the conference to give their thoughts on Tennessee. Here’s what Davis gathered when he asked around about the Vols.

    “I just think they’re young,” the anonymous coach told Davis. “It’s a long season and they have freshman guards. They’re good inside, but they’re not great. They depend on their defense. They’re struggling right now to score.

    “Santiago Vescovi has a hip problem, and he hasn’t shot it well. I thought John Fulkerson was going to have a big year, but for some reason it’s not happening. Yves Pons is one of the best defenders in the country. They struggle at times in the halfcourt, so you want to limit their transition baskets.”

    Tennessee’s season of inconsistency struggled on Saturday afternoon as a result of the struggles in the halfcourt that one coach mentioned. The Vols shot just 35 percent against a bad LSU defense in Baton Rouge and lost to the Tigers 78-65.

    LSU, on the other hand, shot 52 percent behind a game-high 25 points from star freshman Cameron Thomas. Javonte Smart once again had a big game against the Vols, scoring 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.

    “We just did not do a good job with our one-on-one defense,” Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes said following the game. “We don’t ever want to leave someone on an island by themselves and I didn’t think we did a good job of filling our gaps to help. Because our offense wasn’t what we wanted it to be, it hurt our defense.”

    Jaden Springer scored a team-high 21 points as he nearly recorded a triple-double with seven assists and six rebounds. Springer accounted for a third of Tennessee’s points, receiving little help from his teammates. Santiago Vescovi chipped in 13 points, while Keon Johnson scored 10, respectively.

    “We still need more from other players,” Barnes said. “We can’t rely on Keon and Jaden to guard the other team’s best players for the most part and then come down and end up with the ball in their hands because other guys aren’t trying to get involved. We’re not executing the way we need to execute.”

    Barnes rolled out a new lineup against LSU. Senior forward Yves Pons returned from a one-game hiatus due to a knee injury and resumed his spot in the starting lineup. The insertion of Pons led to fellow senior forward John Fulkerson taking a seat on the bench for the first time all season.

    Pons and Fulkerson struggled against the Tigers, combing for just seven points. Fulkerson scored four points and grabbed five rebounds in 25 minutes. Pons scored just three points on 1-of-5 shooting.

    “Within our offense, there’s ways for them to get the ball, but they have to want to do it,” Barnes said of the play of Fulkerson and Pons. “Early in the game, we were just standing around. I don’t know what we were doing… we’re still searching for consistency from some key guys.”

    The Vols now return home for a two-game stretch following three road games in the past four contests. Tennessee will face South Carolina at 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday night before turning its attention to a date with Kentucky next Saturday at 1 p.m.