When I saw the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team earlier in the year at the Old Spice Classic, I thought it might be better than last year’s team, especially after the win over Georgetown.
Even after the loss to Gonzaga, I thought the Vols were the real deal.
Then came a blowout loss to Temple in which they couldn't guard or shoot from the outside.
They followed it up with a win over Marquette—giving me hope.
Now, they are in the midst of losing three of their last four games—two of them at home to unranked teams (although both are solid).
There are many things wrong with this squad but the problems all center on one thing— toughness.
In the past few years, the Vols still had some Buzz Peterson recruits who were as tough as nails.
Dane Bradshaw was the glue that held the team together—diving for loose balls and playing with a banged-up shoulder.
Chris Lofton was one of the biggest competitors that you will ever see, especially when everyone found out that he was playing with cancer.
Although JaJuan Smith wasn’t the smartest player in the world, he knew what it took to win games at crunch time.
When I was watching the game against Kentucky, I realized this team has a bunch of wimps outside of Tyler Smith.
There were multiple times during the game when a UT player would be grabbing himself with some kind of injury and would show extreme pain on his face.
If you don’t go to the bench (which they didn’t), it can’t be that bad.
These guys are some of the softest guys I have ever seen.
They don’t dive for loose balls very often, they don’t play tough in-your-face defense, and outside of Smith, no one wants to take it to the rim.
With all of the athleticism these guys have, they all want to sit outside and shoot three-pointers all day.
Memo to Vols players: You can’t shoot!
Scotty Hopson has to be one of the most overrated recruits ever. He can’t shoot very well with his rain-making shots, doesn’t penetrate, or play defense.
Renaldo Woolridge has also been a major disappointment and is barely getting any playing time.
What has been a Top 10 recruiting class has turned into a major bust.
It didn’t help when point guard Daniel West was ruled academically ineligible but that is the type of player that Bruce Pearl is recruiting.
They are a bunch of prima donnas who are looking forward to the NBA rather than winning in college.
It didn’t surprise me when Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson said the Vols were still talking trash to them at the end of the game.
They don’t care about winning. If they did, they wouldn’t have let Jodie Meeks score 54 points against them in their house.
Someone should have taken it as a challenge defensively, but they are all looking to get the ball back so that they can shoot a three on the other end.
One can actually see why they lose the games—it is three-point shooting.
The Vols give up threes at a 37 percent clip. That is ridiculous!
Meanwhile, they shoot the long-range shot at a meager 30 percent rate and shoot 45 percent from the floor.
One-third of their shots are three-pointers, which is a crazy thought when you consider there is no Lofton or Smith. Only one player who has taken at least 10 outside shots is over 33 percent (Hopson), and the team is shooting 53 percent from inside the arc!
This team has no business shooting more than 10 threes a game, let alone the 22 they average!
Pearl is known for letting his players play, but this is getting out of control and he has to rein them in a bit.
Other than that, the offense has not been the problem.
Defensively, Pearl has to get his press to work. There is no excuse for it not to.
He has much better athletes now than he has ever had, yet they are not buying into the playing defense thing and it's not working.
If they can get the press to work, they will be all right. If not, things aren’t going to get any better.
With all the talent Pearl brought in, this team is doomed to fail.
They don’t play smart basketball, they aren’t tough, don’t play defense, aren’t disciplined on either side of the ball, and don’t have a single pure shooter.
In this day and age of college basketball, you have to have a shooter to spread out the defense.
Instead, teams can zone them all day long—knowing they can give up the occasional three because Tennessee will settle for it way too much rather than penetrate.
There is still plenty of time left for the Vols to turn it around, and the potential is there for another Sweet 16 run and possible SEC championship.
But things won’t get any better until they decide to suck it up and play some basketball.