For the sixth time in school history, Tennessee basketball beat the No. 1 ranked team Wednesday night. The Vols beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 68-59 in front of a checkered Thompson-Boling Arena.
On paper, this should be extremely impressive. UT was without Julian Phillips and Josiah-Jordan James. They had lost three of four, all to unranked teams, including two games last week off last-second three-pointers.
In that regard, this was reminiscent of the Vols beating the No. 1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks in 2010 after four players were suspended, one dismissed. It’s also another win over a No. 1 ranked Alabama team, as they did the same in football.
However, the issues plaguing Tennessee basketball that keep them from looking like a Final Four team still exists. They were actually on display in this game.
The Vols shot an abysmal 6-of-23 from three. They were 16-of-25 from the free throw line but 10-of-17 at one point. Alabama was 9-of-20 from three and 16-of-20 from the foul line while also outrebounding UT.
One stat told the story: 19 turnovers for the Tide. Many of these turnovers were unforced, but it’s also true that the Vols have the best defense in the nation, one that is a bad matchup for the fast pace Nate Oats likes to run.
Jahmai Mashack and Santiago Vescovi each had three steals. Zakai Zeigler had two. The team had 10 steals as a whole. It wasn’t just the perimeter defense that told the story, though.
Alabama was awful from two, going 8-of-24. They missed numerous shots from point-blank range. The Vols dominated the interior. Jonas Aidoo had a breakout game with three blocks.
Speaking of the interior, Tennessee basketball was solid offensively on the other side as well. Aidoo had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Uros Plavsic finally re-emerged and had 10 points off the bench.
Why, then, is this cause for concern? Well, this isn’t the formula for winning in March. Rick Barnes is still living by an ideology that you can overcome poor shooting with tough defense, a good inside game and better ball security.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Defense and inside play doesn’t win championships. You have to be able to hang with teams from the outside.
Great offense always beats great defense. What happens if the Vols run into a team that doesn’t play at Alabama’s frenetic pace and has a red-hot shooting game? That’s what happened to them against the Missouri Tigers.
Of course, the Vols were on in that game from outside, but they are clearly erratic there. Only Santiago Vescovi was reliable from three, going 3-of-6.
After one game, Tyreke Key reverted to his regular SEC self, going 0-of-3 and 1-of-9 from the field. Olivier Nkamhoua was 0-of-4 from three with nine points.
Zeigler did have 15 points and eight assists, but those were mostly transition buckets and due to help from the paint respectively. He was 3-of-9 from outside.
See the problem?
Every outdated method of basketball Barnes lives by still applies to this team. Heck, the Vols still took 14 midrange shots. They missed 13 of them.
Don’t think just because Tennessee basketball overcame that against the No. 1 team in the nation they’ll be able to do it against every team in March. Alabama is less than a month removed from losing to the Oklahoma Sooners after all.
In fact, this isn’t your typical No. 1 team. There is so much parity in college basketball this year, and the game was played in Knoxville, that the Vols were actually favored despite their struggles.
Simply put, this win didn’t change much. Tennessee basketball is still prone to horrendous offensive performances, and they are in trouble if another team is shooting the ball well and avoiding turnovers.