Tennessee basketball couldn’t make it past the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Tournament on Friday.
The Volunteers battled it out with Missouri but failed to execute at the end of the game and came up just short. The Vols lost 79-71 to the red-hot Tigers, and their chances at remaining a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament are dwindling.
The Vols need a ball-handler to step up.
Without point guard Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee basketball is missing the last piece of the puzzle to go on a run in the NCAA tournament. Head coach Rick Barnes has been moving around different players into the point guard position and showed many different looks throughout the two SEC tournament games. Thankfully the Vols, there is still plenty of time to figure out who will step up in the big dance.
Head coach Rick Barnes tried to make the adjustment to move Santiago to the point guard position. However, that experiment died out rather quickly because Vescovi strives much better off the ball and couldn’t get into a rhythm while playing the point position.
Santiago Vescovi has been the Vol’s saving grace throughout the entire season. Vescovi averages 13 points a game and stepped up recently, carrying the Volunteers’ offense without star point guard Zakai Zeigler. In Tennessee basketball’s two SEC tournament games, Vescovi had 15 and 17 points and was swarmed by defenders constantly.
Barnes also tried running Tyreke Key, Jahmai Mashack, and Josiah-Jordan James at the point guard position. None of them really shined the way Volunteer fans may have hoped. Jahmai Mashack played the best from the point position and will likely continue to be the floor general on offense into the NCAA Tournament.
In the game against Missouri, Mashack had 14 points, 4 assists, and an impressive half-court buzzer-beater to give the Vols momentum heading into halftime. It will be interesting to see Barnes’s adjustments to this position. Nonetheless, it will undoubtedly be helpful for the team to get some extra rest as they prepare for the Tournament.
Tennessee basketball’s defense is starting to fall off
The Volunteers’ defense was once the leader in every defense stat and the unanimous No. 1 ranked defense in the country. However, they have fallen off quite a bit recently, slipping in KenPom’s adjusted defense rankings and becoming less reliable and the worst possible time.
The Volunteer’s offense has always been inconsistent, but one thing that they could always rely on was their defense to keep them in games no matter how poor they were shooting. However, this is not the case anymore, and it was proven in the game against Missouri.
Tennessee basketball’s offense played pretty well against the Tigers; they shot 45% from the field, 38% from 3-point land, and outrebounded the Tigers by 5. However, they let Missouri put up almost 80 points against them and take wide-open threes late in the game, ultimately putting the Vols away.
The absence of Zakai Zeigler is starting to hurt the Vols on both sides of the ball. While it feels like Zeigler is irreplaceable, someone needs to step up on the Volunteers who can lock down the opposing team’s point guards as Zeigler did.
Rick Barnes’s takeaways
"“Hard-fought game both ways. I thought both teams really put a lot of effort and energy into it. They played a terrific second half and shot the ball well. They really hit some big shots at the right time.I think our guys, again, we’re still learning how to play without Zakai. I thought that showed up in the fact when they had a couple of runouts where we didn’t have the floor balance.Give them credit. I’m really proud of the effort our guys put into this game. I thought they all fought hard to get ready to play. Again, Missouri made some really key buckets at the right time.We needed to get a couple of stops there at the end, and we didn’t finish the play. We gave up a dribble penetration layup. With nine seconds, that was a tough play. We were in a situation where we were scrambling. Ball came off, they were able to get that one back.Really proud of the effort of our guys, again. I’m proud of the fact that they’re learning. I think these last three games are going to help us going forward. I know what we set out to accomplish is still out there in front of us. We just got to get back and get ready to go again.”"