As Tennessee came off the court on Friday afternoon after the loss to Oregon State, it was pretty obvious what changes needed to be made offensively. This group was always gasping for air when it came to making shots and running their scheme. The Vols fell short this season because they lacked the ability to scare anyone in the paint.
Yes, the Vols had athletic perimeter players that could drive the basket if needed. But, when you’re playing the type of basketball Rick Barnes wants to be ran, not having a presence in the post will hurt you. How many times this season did you see the Vols putting up shots without running any type of offense play? It was persistent, which clearly affected any kind gains this team could make over time.
Having Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer drive the basket or pull up for those short jumpers were going to get shutdown after teams figured out that was their only move. Not saying it was the only thing those two could bring to the table, but it was clear that it was the game plan once the Vols got into trouble. It was just an awkward year, especially when you aren’t getting much out of John Fulkerson, due to many reasons, and Yves Pons, whose offensive game took a step back.
Rick Barnes was adamant after the loss to the Beavers that this team needs a presence in the paint to play their style of basketball. You know, the one that gave them so much success in previous years.
“We’ve got to have an inside presence,” Barnes said. “We’ve never had some kind of an inside presence. We didn’t have any at all today. I’m not talking — there’s different ways to do it. You can drive the ball. There were heavy gaps. They were really in there because they were determined to make us try to — either try to do too much, turn it over, get in there deep, take tough shots, which we did too many times, and kick out and hope that we weren’t making shots.
“We’ve got to change — again, going forward, we’ve got to get back to having an inside presence the way that we play and the way that we want to play.”
When this basketball team wasn’t shooting lights out, which happened most of the year, you have to be physical in the paint and on the boards. This wasn’t the case for the Vols this season. Now don’t get me wrong, Yves Pons and guys like Josiah-Jordan James were working their tail off underneath the basket for rebounds, but teams see your weakness and take advantage. This is exactly what happened to the Vols for most of the season.
As Rick Barnes noted in his postgame presser, if they aren’t shooting the ball well and turning it over, you at least need to be a force on the boards, which they weren’t.
“You can’t turn the ball over the way we did at times, and you’ve got to be able to rebound,” Barnes said. “When you don’t have that inside presence, you know, we just — again, today, I don’t think we — we had a couple offensive rebounds, but not anything what we need to have when you’re not shooting the ball the way we were today.”
It’s time for this staff to go out and find themselves a force in the paint, not just a shot blocker, a guy who you can rely on for 15 points and 8 rebounds every night. This team didn’t have any kind of bench presence this season as well. The Vols had Uros Plavsic, EJ Anosike, Drew Pember and Olivier Nkamhoua on their bench this season and never felt comfortable keeping them in the game. Those are four spots on a roster that the staff felt couldn’t give them enough to have a chance to be game changers.
In this league, if you don’t have a a guy on the bench you can rely on to be impactful in the post, you won’t go far. That proved to be the case this season, as Fulkerson continued to struggle and Pons was dealing with a few injuries. It’s easy to put it on a bench that never saw much of the court in a consistent manner, but this one is on the coaching staff, they recruited them.
This will end up being a huge offseason for the Vols, as highly touted point guard Kennedy Chandler arrives on campus, as does Jahmai Mashack. The Vols will make some noise in the transfer portal because players will look at Tennessee as a team that can win now. There are some names out there right now that this staff is looking into, but it’s all about finishing the deal.
Tennessee won’t have a problem with outside talent next season, they’ll have the pieces, even if Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer head to the NBA. But for the Vols to be a dominant team next season, they’ll need those few extra monsters in the paint.
We will have time to breakdown the whole season soon enough, but for Rick Barnes, he’s already breaking down film to find the next chess pieces for Tennessee. They have to put this season in the rear view mirror, because the Vols shouldn’t be sitting at home after the first round next season.