Tennessee and Florida. A long-standing SEC rivalry. Although the two schools have met over 100-times in Mens basketball, the two foes meet just once this season. The lone battle took place today in the new-and-improved O'Connell Center. Florida fans were rowdy as the Gators came out in all-black uniforms as apart of their "Black-out" game as fans also wore the color black. The undersized inexperienced Vols decked in all orange were set for their 5th top-25 ranked match-up away from home.
Head coach Rick Barnes will never fall back on their "youth" excuse as he has said in every press conference that it is not about youth or being undersized it is about needing to play better. To a point, that is true. However, when your teams average height is 6'3 and to have the gauntlet schedule Tennessee has endured it has to be a factor. Tennessee this season has been filled with a lot of "Almost" efforts. Almost beating Oregon in the Maui invitational, getting clipped by North Carolina in Chapel Hill by 2-points a game in which Tar Heels coach Roy Williams called "The luckiest win" in his career. Today was no different.
Taking of the 24th-ranked hated Gators the Vols turned the ball over 19-times which ultimately costs Tennessee the contest. That along with putting Florida on the line 26-times was the glaring difference in the basketball game. Florida shot 13 more free throws, and committed 8-less turnovers than the Vols. Other than that, Tennessee found themselves in almost a dead heap. Both squads shot 50% from the field, while Florida put in 45% of their three's, as Tennessee shot 42% from behind the arc. Both teams collected 31-rebounds in a back-and-forth-game that ended in a 13-point loss for Tennessee.
Foul trouble hurt Tennessee as Grant Williams, and Admiral Schofield got sent to the pine with 5-fouls in crunch time. Schofield, was one of just two Tennessee scorers in double-figures, adding 10-rebounds to his 18-points to collect a triple-double. Jordan Bowden reached 15-points, and added three steals to his stat-line. Tennessee desperately misses big-man John Fulkerson who is sidelined due to injury. Florida forward Justin Leon went for 19-points, and 6-rebounds. KeVaughn Allen lead the Gators in scoring dropping 23 on the sloppy Vols defense. Tennessee almost refused to rotate on defense, something Rick Barnes did not comment on post-game (To be fair he was not asked). Barnes spent the majority of his time harping on the fact Tennessee turned the ball over at the rate they did. Rick also noted the fact the Vols had poor clock management and a lack of awareness. Tennessee falls to 1-2 in SEC play and look to rebound vs a well-coached South Carolina team.
After an impressive road win in College Station to start SEC-Play confidence was high as the Vols returned to Knoxville to host the 11-2 Arkansas Razorbacks. The undersized 8-5 Vols looked ready to take on the seemingly giants that stomped into Thompson-Bowling arena. A game that saw three sweat-related timeouts, a pair of 12-0 runs, and one big Vols collapse.
The Vols against the zone playing Hogs, took advantage running up-and-down-the-floor, driving-well, and shooting 50% from the floor. Tennessee went on a 14-0 run to capture a 12-point lead. Arkansas went from the 8:37-mark all the way down to 2:30-mark without a basket falling. No surprise that in a half that saw Tennessee get called for 18-fouls what broke the Hogs scoreless streak was a pair of freebees. The Vols holding a 12-point lead thought they were in-control with just 2-minutes before the break. However, Arkansas went on a run of their own pulling the Hogs within 2-points prior to the intermission.
Following the halftime break the Arkansas Razorbacks continued to have the momentum taking the lead and making it at times a 6-point game. After taking the lead, the scrappy-Vols fought back. Robert Hubbs who score 21-points, brought the house down on the receiving end of an alley-oop dunk. The Vols faithful has taken notice of the young-Vols fun style-of-play and came out in droves tonight as Tennessee got their best attendance mark of the year. Lew Evans had himself a game again having to fill-in for the injured big-man, John Fulkerson. Taking charges and racking up assists kept the Vols in it.
At the 6:17-mark Tennessee pulled back within 2 of the Hogs thanks to the impressive play of Grant Williams. Williams posted a double-double scoring 15, and caroling 11-rebounds. Tennessee got into the double-bonus with over 5-minutes to play. The Vols and Hogs traded blows before the 1:42-mark when the Vols' guard Robert Hubbs got a huge transition bucket pulling the Vols within one. A terrible foul call on Robert Hubbs off the in-bounds gave the Hogs a pair of free-throws. After sinking both the Vols fell behind by three. Jordan Bone who is in just his second game post-injury his dribble-drive move cut the Razorbacks lead to 73-72 just a pair of his 6-point 3-assist night off the pine. The Vols switched to a full-court press late in the second half and it gave Arkansas fits trying to inbound the ball. In the half-court set Rick Barnes reverted back to a zone that got them beat by a step as Vols were called for their 9th second half team foul resulting in a Hogs one-and-one. After nailing both the Vols again trailed by three. Jordan Bone forced a pass with 34-seconds left making a freshman mistake and a turnover. Down four with under 30-seconds left, a critical and-one play for Mostella the biggest of his 16-points brought the Vols within one with 24-ticks left. The full-court press ended in an almost Hogs turnover but instead the Vols were forced to foul. With 17.8-seconds left, Tennessee found themselves down three. A failed give-and-go puts the game on ice for Arkansas. A hard-fought game that the Vols lose dropping to 8-6 with a date with top-25 ranked Florida looming up next. The Vols drop to 1-1 in SEC play losing 82-78.
After crushing yet another big-ten team in their bowl game the 2016 season is a wrap for Tennessee. Vols Offensive Coordinator has been under fire all season long as the Vols offense underperformed in infuriating fashion against teams like; Appy State, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. The disappointing 8-4 season leaves Vols fans worried about what is to come. Tennessee is losing stars like Alvin Kamara, Josh Malone, and during the season losing former-5-star Preston Williams, and lead-running back Jalen Hurd. The Vols will also need to replace their QB, as Josh Dobbs has completed his Senior season.
Mike DeBord took the University of Indiana job today at the same position he held at UT. It now leaves the Vols searching for an OC, and names that have been thrown around are Mark Hilfritch former-Oregon OC under Chip Kelly who then took over at the Ducks head coach before getting canned this season. Another duck-related name that was lightly thrown around is Chip Kelly. Kelly formerly Oregon's head coach before jumping ship to the NFL where he held head coaching jobs with the Eagles, and 49ers, is now back on the market after getting the zig from the 49ers following the NFL season. Chip Kelly seems like a pipe-dream, and the least likely name that has been tossed out there. Mark Hilfritch attended a University of Tennessee bowl practice. He was already in town to watch his former-QB Marcus Mariota lead the Tennessee Titans. Hiring a true offensive coordinator will be a huge step for the Vols. The problem would come if Butch Jones elects to promote from within. In that case, the Vols would run the same, bland, horrific offense they have ran in years past. Until Butch Jones gives full-control to an OC, the Vols offense will continue to struggle.