It’s in the books. It was nothing to write home about, but it was a conference win.
The Vols finally looked like a major college basketball team by beating a team that looked nothing like a major college basketball team, Mississippi State. Tennessee took advantage of the depleted Bulldogs (just seven scholarship players on the roster), and snapped its four-game losing streak... and, there was much rejoicing.
But before you bust out your old Jajuan Smith jersey and declare the Vols have returned, remember this is still an average at best team.
... That is, unless Coach Martin finally comes to me looking for advice on how to save the season, then of course I’ll go to my safe that says, “ONLY OPEN IF 1-3 IN THE SEC" and give him the “THREE IMPROVEMENTS” list.
In the highly unlikely event this doesn’t happen, here’s the list anyway.
He’s no doubt an offensive liability, but Makanjuola’s role has nothing to do with his PPG. His value comes from diving after loose balls, taking charges, and being the best low-post defender on the team. As Will Shelton of Rocky Top Talk writes, “Yemi is Steven Pearl with a bigger body”.
In other words, Makanjuola plays with grit. The kind of grit Kenny Hall has always lacked.
If he can stay out of foul trouble, he has the potential to at least partially fill some of the void left behind by Jeronne Maymon’s injury. Kenny Hall seems to have reached his ceiling (his numbers are practically the same as a year ago), but Makanjuola still seems to have tremendous upside ahead of him.
Coach Martin would need to replace four to six points a game with Hall coming off the bench, but the improved defense could make the dip in scoring a moot point.
I’ll go even further and say Reese should be in the starting five.
He’s shown he can be a legitimate threat from the three-point line, shooting 50 percent from range against Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Alabama, and he’s averaging over seven points per in just five games this season. (He missed the first 11 games after undergoing shoulder surgery.)
Likewise, Armani Moore has played his way out of Martin’s doghouse and back into the rotation with performances like his stat-sheet filler Saturday (11 rebounds, four assists, three steals, one block, and four points). His most important stat, though? Zero turnovers in three games.
This team is so much more efficient with Richardson and Jordan McRae leading the offense and Golden coming off the bench. The downfall, however, is McRae losses shots when he’s not playing shooting guard.
With Richardson at point, McRae will be able to focus on getting open rather than creating shots, which will finally spread the floor for Stokes to have more open looks under the basket. Richardson’s pull-up jumper at the foul line has been lights out lately, and his success will open lanes for him to drive straight to the basket.