By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
After a sloppy, turnover-filled, lackluster first half, Tennessee got itself into gear and hit 11 of its first 12 field goals after the break.
The Volunteers scored 45 points in the second half. Vanderbilt scored 45 points in the entire game.
That pretty much sums up Tennessee’s business trip to Nashville on Saturday night. The Commodores had a 1,080-game streak of at least one three-point field goal made snapped by going 0-for-25 from long range and the Vols cruised to a 66-45 win at Memorial Gymnasium.
It was frustrating for Rick Barnes and Co. in the early going. Santiago Vescovi committed a turnover less than ten seconds into the game and turned the ball over again two minutes later to land himself on the bench. There was early rotation in the backcourt with Jalen Johnson and Josiah-Jordan James being in and out after James passed up a good look and committed a turnover instead, prompting Barnes to sit him down momentarily.
The turnovers continued to pile up—mainly in the first half. Tennessee finished with 18 giveaways on the night. Just three days after limiting itself to ten against Georgia.
Ultimately, it’s a blip on the radar on a night like Saturday. Tennessee dominated in a 21-point win, was able to push the tempo more than it has for most of the season and got an encouraging performance from Jordan Bowden. The senior was 7 of 11 from the field, limiting himself to just two three-point attempts, on his way to a game-high 21 points. It’s Bowden’s second 20-point showing of the season and first since Nov. 12 against Murray State.
Opportunity knocks in the SEC for Tennessee moving forward. The Vols host Ole Miss on Tuesday before traveling to Kansas for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and return home on Jan. 28 to welcome Texas A&M to Thompson-Boling Arena.
5-2 in league play entering February wouldn’t be a bad place to sit. The conference schedule is obviously backloaded for Tennessee, but picking up league wins when able could build some confidence for the Vols moving into the meat of their season.
SEC week in review (and preview)
Florida has easily been the biggest disappointment of this college hoops season across the country. That’s not changing unless the Gators go on a major NCAA Tournament run to redefine their season. Saturday showed what Mike White’s team is capable of after getting double-doubles from Kerry Blackshear Jr. (11 points, 16 rebounds) and Omar Payne’s impeccable performance of 19 points on 9-of-9 from the field to go with his 11 boards—seven of those on the offensive glass—to help Florida crush Auburn 69-47 and give the Gators their first top five win in over a decade. Auburn meanwhile has dropped two straight SEC road games to Alabama and now Florida after starting the season 15-0. Florida’s game against LSU on Tuesday is huge for both teams.
Kentucky had a big lead earlier in the week against South Carolina before the Gamecocks rallied to upset the Wildcats with a banked-in three-pointer at the buzzer. On Saturday Kentucky learned its lesson at Arkansas. When the Razorbacks jumped out in front of Kentucky in the second half the Wildcats responded with a run to jump out to a double-digit lead and didn’t allow Arkansas to threaten again in a 73-66 win.
After Georgia had an incredibly impressive offensive showing against Tennessee, the Bulldogs went to Starkville and got smacked by Mississippi State 91-59. Reggie Perry continues to be special, but Georgia’s offense continues to be a problem outside of Anthony Edwards. Rayshaun Hammonds can be explosive, but this team struggles when Sahvir Wheeler and Donnell Gresham Jr. don’t provide support for Edwards in the backcourt.
After Florida State defeated Tennessee in November, my Sports Animal colleague Brian Rice suggested the Seminoles would likely be the third-best team in the ACC this year. At the time I thought that was too high, now it might be an understatement for Leonard Hamilton’s squad. Florida State is 16-2 after rallying to knock off Miami on the road in overtime on Saturday. Aside from a loss to Indiana in Bloomington, Florida State hasn’t lost since its season opener against Pittsburgh. The Seminoles also already have a win at Louisville. Watch out.
Speaking of Louisville, the Cardinals have won four straight since that Florida State loss, most recently beating Duke at Cameron Indoor on Saturday night. Maybe most impressively, the Cardinals did it with star Jordan Nwora scoring just six points. Duke meanwhile has lost two straight after being upset by Clemson earlier in the week.
Kansas and Baylor were both tested on the road before coming away with conference wins. The Jayhawks trailed at the half to Texas before sticking around and putting the Longhorns away by closing the game on a 12-3 run. Devon Dotson’s hip doesn’t appear to be a problem anymore and he scored 21 points to lead Kansas. The Bears trailed for most of the first 30 minutes before clawing their way back in front and used a 15-7 run to escape Stillwater with a win over Oklahoma State.
West Virginia was playing good basketball when it lost to Kansas a couple weeks ago in Lawrence. It bounced back with three straight conference wins, including a nice win over Texas Tech. Then it lost to Kansas State on Saturday in Manhattan. The Wildcats are arguably the worst team in the league and were winless in the Big 12 before meeting the Mountaineers over the weekend. Ouch.
I know it’s coach speak to say “any team in this league can beat any team at any time,” but it really is the truth in several college basketball conferences and the Big East is among them. All ten teams are loaded and can play with the big boys around the country. Some teams are more equipped to handle the tournament grind or to overcome a poor start in league play, sure, but this conference from top to bottom is incredibly talented.
Take Butler for example. The Bulldogs began the week as a No. 1 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology on ESPN. Then Butler lost at home to Seton Hall and fell on the road 0-4 DePaul. There was chatter during non conference play that the Blue Demons could finally get back to the tournament after wins over Texas Tech, Iowa and Minnesota, but they died down after dropping four straight to start Big East play. A win like that can go a long way for DePaul, but it shows why even Butler can’t sleep on anyone.
St. John’s got off to a slow start in league play and managed to beat DePaul last weekend, but fell to Providence and had Seton Hall on the ropes before losing in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Red Storm is 1-5 in league play and a very promising non conference resume could be worthless by March.
Last week I mentioned Ohio State’s four-game slump with the offense struggling. Things aren’t getting better after Saturday’s blowout loss to Penn State. The Buckeyes have now lost five of six with the lone win coming last week against Nebraska. This team just isn’t firing on all cylinders together and the backcourt production hasn’t been there consistently. Ohio State’s not really going to get swept by Minnesota, are they?
Ohio State’s not the only Big Ten team moving in the wrong direction. Michigan has lost two straight after blowing a second half lead and falling to Iowa on the road Friday night. The Hawkeyes are talented and Luka Garza had a monster game, but opposing front courts have consistently given the Wolverines serious problems during Big Ten play (Michigan is 2-4, by the way). Not having Isaiah Livers has proven to hurt this team and Brandon Johns Jr. has been unable to provide the spark in Livers’ absence.
After being upset by Washington State earlier in the week, Oregon needed to erase a 12-point halftime deficit to beat Washington in overtime. Credit to Payton Pritchard, who had the game-winning 3, for continuing to add to his Wooden Award resume with 22 points in the win. For Washington, it’s the fifth loss in seven games. One of Tennessee’s best wins is losing its shine.
Arizona got destroyed by Oregon State in Corvallis last weekend, but bounced back to beat Utah before rolling against Colorado on Saturday. This team really seems like it should be doing more with three potential first-round draft picks in the lineup and three consecutive road games will test this young Wildcats team.
The Atlantic-10 has gotten some extra buzz this year with Dayton and VCU, but a handful of teams (Richmond, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island, Duquesne, Saint Louis) showed some potential before league play started. George Mason appears to have flamed out within the conference early while the Bonnies were waxed by VCU in Richmond on Saturday. Saint Louis did everything against Dayton except win the game in an overtime loss on Friday night thanks to Jalen Crutcher’s buzzer-beater as time expired. Missing 17 free throws didn’t help the Billikens.
The league could still get three teams in, but it will take one of the aforementioned teams dominating the other middle-of-the-pack teams in that grouping or winning the A-10 tourney at the end of the year.