KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It was a spirited Tennessee basketball loss Friday night, if it’s possible for there to be such a thing when a team loses a home opener for the first time in 25 years.
The Vols’ (0-1) nine new players have yet to learn the campus street names, much less the program’s relatively modest history.
Coach Rick Barnes just wants them to focus on knowing their roles, and once that part gets sorted out, he’ll have a team capable of competing night-in and night-out in the SEC.
Southern Conference favorite and likely NCAA Tournament team Chattanooga handled Barnes’ young Vols on Friday night, 82-69.
But Tennessee was not without its bright spots.
Here are five building blocks for the Vols moving forward toward their Tuesday night 7 p.m. game against Appalachian State:
The true freshman has lightning quicks, and while he might not be the “pass-first” point guard he was made out to be, if he scores 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting every night the assists will surely come. Bone had just one assist to go with two turnovers in his 31 minutes, and Barnes wants him to get the ball up court quicker, but it was an impressive debut.
Tennessee won the battle of the boards 42-36 against the bigger, more experienced and more athletic Chattanooga team. Barnes said rebounding was one of his biggest concerns after last Friday’s exhibition win over Slippery Rock, and the fact his team could rectify that quickly is a good sign. Freshman Grant Williams led the way with 10 rebounds.
Alexander scored only seven points in his 28 minutes, making 1-of-3 field goals and going 5-of-8 from the free-throw line. The 6-10, 218-pounder blocked four shots and pulled down eight rebounds, however, against a legitimate Chattanooga front line that would stack up with most SEC teams.
The Vols were beating Chattanooga — an experienced team that drew votes in the preseason Top 25 coaches poll — through the first 10 minutes.
Barnes said his young players got away from the scouting report and “didn’t sustain” the type of defense needed.
Tennessee shot 33 percent as a team and senior Robert Hubbs was held to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting — and the margin of defeat was still only 13 points?
The Vols have plenty of room for improvement once Barnes sorts out his team and determines the playing rotation.
A brutal pre-SEC schedule should prove ample room for growth and evaluation.