Appraising State of UT Basketball

It's understandable if UT basketball fans felt they were trapped in a time warp Saturday since Tennessee's game against Florida looked like a cross between the Wade Houston's last season and Kevin O'Neill's first season on the Hill.

In other words: It resembled the no-defense, no-discipline basketball the Vols played under Wade Houston, minus Allen Houston, and the no-offense, no-clue basketball Tennessee played under Kevin O'Neill prior to his recruiting coups that stocked UT with solid talent.

Tennessee's effort, or lack thereof, was disturbing in light of the fact we're approaching the midway point of Buzz Peterson's third season as boss of the Vols. It also raised questions about the potential for improvement this season. Most disconcerting was an admission by at least two UT players that the Vols quit against the Gators. With these myriad of concerns in mind, here's a look at the top five problems facing the Vols this season.

(1) Captain Crunch doesn't turn soggy in milk, but Captain (Brandon) Crump does turn soggy in the paint. Crump doesn't appear physical enough to be a defensive stopper in the low post or aggressive enough to be a consistent threat on the blocks with his back to the basket. Major Wingate and Boomer Herndon will improve with experience but neither is likely to improve enough this season to remedy the problem. Jemere Hendrix is a tireless worker on the boards but his offensive game is limited to put-back baskets.

(2) C.J. Watson is a quality floor leader and easily the best point guard Tennessee has had in the last decade, but the lack of another dependable ball handler in the starting backcourt leaves Tennessee vulnerable to any team that has the quickness and depth to pressure the ball. That translates to any SEC title contender.

(3) Defense is as much about effort as anything else and Tennessee's defense was virtually nonexistence against Florida. The Vols didn't get back down court to deny transition baskets and failed to shutdown either the post or perimeter in the half-court game. Simply put: it was a breakdown of the most fundamental elements of success in basketball. Furthermore, since the Vols are most effective in transition, hard-nosed defense and crashing the glass are essential to its offensive success. Also, does UT have a true stopper on defense capable of challenging and taking the opponent's best scorer out of their comfort zone?

(4) Speaking of the half-court game, Tennessee doesn't appear to have one. In addition to lacking the post threat needed to force opposing defenses to sag inside, the Vols don't have the perimeter firepower required to force teams out of the zone. Scooter McFagdon has been an effective outside threat at home but his shooting percentage away from Thompson-Boling has been dismal. Even when McFagdon is on, the Vols need another consistent long-range shooter to balance the floor. They also need Watson to do a better job of breaking down defenses in the half court to open perimeter opportunities.

(5) The Vols don't appear to have a slasher on the wing capable of driving to the basket or pulling up and taking the jumper. Again McFagdon is the closest qualifier, but can he take an athletic opponent with small-forward size to school? Stanley Asumnu is the type of player who could fill such a role, but he hasn't demonstrated the ability to finish off the drive. Last season Ron Slay was able to drive the ball into the paint as well as play with his back to the basket. Is there a player of that ilk on UT's current roster? Slay also provided senior leadership which helped the Vols survive the tough times and take the good times in stride. Without a senior on this UT team, can the Vols find someone who can assume those vital duties?

Tennessee does have excellent overall quickness and better depth than in recent years. It also appears to be the best free-throw shooting team the Vols have had since the golden days of Don Devoe. However, much like Tennessee's football offense, it has yet to discover an identity or develop a strength it can bank on every game.

It is written: "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." But if Peterson can teach his young pups not to lie down and roll over, he will go a long way to maintaining the fan support needed for the rise of his program.


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