By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
There’s only one thing to point to when it comes to Tennessee’s 77-64 loss to Kentucky on Saturday. And it isn’t John Fulkerson’s phantom foul in the first half or Tennessee failing to stop Kentucky’s bench from the field or on the boards.
Tennessee needs to hit shots.
The Volunteers committed fewer turnovers, were called for fewer fouls, shot only one less free throw, grabbed more offensive rebounds and attempted nine more field goals than Kentucky on Saturday.
Yet, the Vols fell by 13 at home thanks to a 34% shooting day from the floor and hitting just 7 of 26 attempts from behind the arc. Kentucky was 5 of 10 from outside and shot 54% overall.
There’s no other stat from the game that shows the disparity more. Even with Kentucky’s 38-18 advantage of points in the paint, the biggest issue for Tennessee wasn’t the Wildcats’ length. It was the inability to knock down open looks and balance the offense.
“We had great looks at it, I’m telling you,” Rick Barnes said after the loss on Saturday about his team taking 26 outside shots against Kentucky. “We had looks that I would’ve been upset if people had them against us. But the fact is, you have to make some at some point in time. When you’re behind, catching up, you have to start shooting some.”
“We’re going to be a team that, when we play at our best, we’re going to be somewhere between 16 and 20 I think would be a pretty good balance for us.”
Barnes has spoke several times about the need to balance the outside shooting and limit those looks when needed. Tennessee ranks 311th in the nation in three-point percentage.
So how has Tennessee fared when it balances its offense? The numbers have been broken down based on the number of outside shots the Vols have attempted.
When Tennessee shoots less than 16 3s
The Vols have attempted 15 shots from outside in five games this year. Tennessee is shooting 31.8% from 3 and has a 3-2 record in those games, beating Washington, VCU and Vanderbilt while losing to Cincinnati and Kansas.
When Tennessee shoots between 16-20 3s
The Vols have stayed between 16 and 20 three-pointers six times this year with a 5-1 record in those games. The only loss is to Wisconsin at home while the wins have come against UNC Asheville, Chattanooga, Florida A&M, Ole Miss and Alabama. Tennessee is shooting 26% from distance when staying between 16-20 attempts.
When Tennessee shoots more than 20 3s
This is where Tennessee has lived the most, shooting more than 20 times from downtown in 12 games. The Vols have a 5-7 record in those games and are shooting 31.6% from outside. The Vols beat Murray State, Alabama State, Jacksonville State, Missouri and South Carolina while shooting over 20 3s.
The Vols have dropped games to Florida State, Memphis, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Kentucky. Four of those losses have come at home, including Tennessee’s worst loss of the season to the Aggies on Jan. 28.
Barnes might be onto something when it comes to reeling in his team’s outside shooting. Per the NET rankings, Tennessee’s three best wins of the season have come in games where the Vols have attempted fewer than 20 shots from outside (Washington, VCU and Alabama). Tennessee’s worst three losses according to the NET have come in games where Tennessee has let more than 20 long-range shots fly (Texas A&M, Georgia, Memphis).
The Vols need more balance in the offense and need to be able to finish inside more. They’ll have an opportunity to do that Tuesday night against Arkansas, which is dead last in the SEC in rebounding and doesn’t have a lot of size. However, the Razorbacks do boast the conference’s leading scorer in Mason Jones at 20.5 points per game while Jimmy Whitt Jr. averages 14.7 and shoots 50.2% from the field.
Arkansas will still be without Isaiah Joe, who is out indefinitely after having surgery on his knee. Joe was averaging 16 points per game for the Hogs, who have dropped back-to-back games to Auburn and Missouri in Joe’s absence.
Tip-off on Tuesday night is set for 7 o’clock EST at Thompson-Boling Arena. 99.1 FM The Sports Animal will carry Vol Network pregame coverage beginning at 6:30. Listeners can also catch the game on AM 990.