KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee basketball is off to a modest 5-4 start, and if fans haven’t been paying attention they might think the Vols are right on schedule for mediocrity.
Three of Tennessee’s four losses, you see, are as good as any team’s in the country:
• 72-64 to Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational
• 69-65 to Oregon in OT in the Maui Invitational
• 73-71 to North Carolina, in Chapel Hill
The other loss, in the home opener to Southern Conference favorite Chattanooga (82-69), was not overly horrible considering the Vols’ had nine new faces making their Thompson-Boling debut.
Tennessee beat Tennessee Tech by a 74-68 count on Tuesday night, what might seem like a routine victory, but things are beginning to crystalize.
Here are 3 quick things:
1. Robert Hubbs lll
Hubbs is finally living up to his 5-star rating and worth the price of admission. Hubbs followed up on his 21-point game at North Carolina with 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
More impressively, Hubbs is hustling on defense and crashing the boards. Hubbs had a team-high seven rebounds and a clutch blocked shot with 32 seconds left.
2. Point-guard play
Tennessee has been without starting point guard Jordan Bone since the third game of the season, on account of a stress fracture in his foot.
Barnes said on Tuesday that he’s hoping the talented freshman from Nashville will be back in time for the Vols’ Dec. 29 SEC opener at Texas A&M,
UT has been using three different players at the point, each with the strengths and weaknesses, but none as inclined for the position as Bone.
3. Size matters
Tennessee’s undoing at North Carolina was ultimately its lack of size. The Vols have just one player taller than 6-foot-7 — 6-10 sophomore Kyle Alexander — and the 210-pound Alexander is only 210 pounds and has issues boxing out.
UT has been counting on lanky 6-7 freshman John Fulkerson and 6-5 wide-body freshman Grant Williams in the paint of late.
Barnes said both need to be more assertive to be effective, and time is running out on the Vols prep for SEC play.
“(Fulkerson) didn’t take a shot, but that’s on him,” Barnes said. “Grant was 3-for-3 (shooting), he didn’t get enough shots. Kyle was 1-of-3 but iI think two of his shots were jump shots.”
Barnes wants to see the players in the post demand the ball more and be more aggressive, particularly fan-favorite Fulkerson.
“There’s times we have to score, and he does’t look to score,” Barnes said. “He doesn’t work hard enough to get the ball.
“He likes space like most post guys… but he’s got to play quicker and work at getting a deeper post up.”