For whatever percentage of today was Tennessee feeling too good about itself, this loss was a good thing going forward. I don’t know how high that percentage is, but I’m sure it’s there after the win at Rupp and whispers of one seeds. The Vols were humbled today.
And whatever percentage was effort, with Alabama holding a double-digit rebounding advantage for much of the day? I’d imagine it will be corrected, much the same as when it presented itself in the loss to Auburn. Rick Barnes is putting a lot of it on these two things in the postgame.
Alabama still has a murderous schedule left, but their potential is quite high. The margin was zero fun, but this won’t go in the books as a bad loss. It’s certainly not great to see the Vols take their largest defeat of the year, but Tennessee should still have six losses to six NCAA Tournament teams. Credit the Tide for playing so well.
My biggest concern, both coming in and going out of this game, is Tennessee’s struggle to defend elite guard play.
The Vols have given up 80+ points four times this year. Alabama only got 78, but as the backups played the last several minutes I’m counting this one as 80+. And every time, the opposition gets there through its guards:
- Villanova Bridges & Brunson: 15-of-26 (57.7%), 45 points
- Arkansas Barford & Macon: 20-of-36 (55.6%), 61 points
- Auburn Brown & Harper: 10-of-30 (30%), 36 points
- Vanderbilt LaChance & Lee: 13-of-25 (52%), 37 points
- Alabama Petty & Sexton: 10-of-17 (58.8%), 30 points
To be clear, the Vols don’t always get blown up by great guards. Tennessee’s problem with Auburn, as you can see, wasn’t defending outright. It was giving up 22 offensive rebounds. Tennessee also shut down Iowa State’s guards, which is harder than it looked as it turns out.
But against great guards from Villanova, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Alabama, the Vols have had a tough time keeping them off the scoreboard. And while some have been hot from the arc, most often they have taken advantage of Tennessee off the dribble. That’s how much of Alabama’s massive advantage in the paint happened today.
And today was the first time the Vols got punched by great guards, and their own guards didn’t punch back. Alabama’s defense has always been good, and today they held Bone, Daniel, and Turner to 3-of-14 (21.4%) and 10 points. That’s how this Tennessee team gets blown out.
So perhaps Alabama is just a bad match-up. When the other team isn’t so strong defensively, you get Arkansas and Vanderbilt (and while Vandy didn’t score 80+ in the second meeting and Saben Lee went 0-for-4, Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson combined for 17-of-32 and 46 points). But until Tennessee consistently proves otherwise, it’s something you’ll be searching your bracket for.
File it away; the Vols will get another test against great guards from Florida on February 21. Even great teams have weaknesses; Alabama just exploited what appears to be Tennessee’s better than anyone else.