Isn’t this the game Cuonzo would’ve wanted?
Grant Williams fouled out with four points on 1-of-8 shooting. The Vols lead the nation in assist percentage at 69%. Tonight: only 12 assists on 31 made shots, 38.7%. Missouri made Tennessee beat them with more one-on-one play, and do so without much of anything from its best player.
And…we did. Convincingly. Massively.
Cuonzo remains a Rorschach for Tennessee fans, but what is fact is the way his UT teams played at home against the best competition. His first team beat an Elite Eight Florida squad and lost to Kentucky’s National Championship team by three. His second team saw Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss pull away late for a 92-74 win, but the Vols were within single digits for most of the second half. They beat Wichita State and another Elite Eight Florida squad in Knoxville, plus Kentucky by 30. His final team battled the Gators, undefeated in the SEC, to the final minute in Knoxville.
I’ve never seen a Cuonzo Martin team take a beating like this at home.
If Tennessee can do this, with Grant Williams and effective ball movement handcuffed, to a bubble squad on the road? I’m not sure how many SEC teams on the bubble or below are going to beat the Vols this year. At this point, we get to question how many will even threaten.
When great individual efforts were required tonight, how about Kyle Alexander: 14 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks. Jordan Bowden came off the bench with 20, again. And best of all, Lamonte Turner looked off in his return against Georgia, but not tonight: 3-of-4 from the arc.
Tennessee was favored by seven and won by 24. The good news, in a sense, is the challenge continues to increase: we’re off to Gainesville on Saturday, where the Vols were only favored by one in KenPom before tonight. As was the case after Georgia, I keep trying to remind myself any win is a good win and to appreciate everything about this team. But this team, even outside of what we would consider its best basketball, is giving us far more to appreciate than we thought possible.
Onward and upward. Go Vols.