There are a few words anybody who wants to join the 21st century should eliminate from their vocabulary when discussing college basketball. They are the same words that apply to Tennessee basketball under Rick Barnes.
The Vols’ 67-54 loss on the road to the Florida Gators Wednesday night serves as more proof that those attributes aren’t enough for a deep run in March Madness. Offense and shooting are the way of the sport now.
If you like all those boomer buzz words, which also includes fundamentals, rebounding, turnovers and free throws, you are so far behind the times you might be stunned by the existence of a shot clock. Get with the program.
Tennessee basketball only had 10 turnovers on the night. The Vols hit 11 of 12 free throws. Their defense, while not ideal, still held Florida to four points below its seasonal average.
Only two stats matter. The Vols shot 27.9 from the field, and they were 5-of-25 from three. They also had open looks, but shots just couldn’t fall.
This is the reason UT won’t make a run in March Madness. In a win-or-go-home scenario, you can’t afford to have awful offensive outings every now and then. As great as their offense usually is, when they’re bad, they’re horrendous.
To win the NCAA Tournament, you have to win six games. The Vols are four games removed from their last abysmal offensive outing, at home against the Kentucky Wildcats. Four games won’t win it.
Numbers are worse when you take a deeper dive. Normally, the principle of a team like the Vols losing in the Big Dance is that they’ll run into a red-hot shooting team while their offense falls flat.
That wasn’t the case here either, though. Florida was fine from three, 7-of-20, but that’s not some insane level of red-hot shooting. It’s also not enough of a difference between that and UT going 5-of-25 from outside.
What stands out is Rick Barnes’ commitment to low-percentage shots. This is the problem, and it’s a strategy straight out of the 1990s.
Rocky Top attempted eight midrange shots and four more that at least had one foot outside the paint. Florida attempted three. On those borderline midrange shots, the Vols were 2-of-12.
Unless you have post-baseball career Michael Jordan, you should be abandoning this shot altogether. It’s an approach to the game as if the three-point line doesn’t exist.
Simply put, the poor shooting night combined with Tennessee basketball still committing to what all the analytics say is no longer worth it is what cost them It’s not going away either.
People who believed the defense and unselfishness could overcome that probably are so old-school they think “Hoosiers” made sense as a movie. They probably hailed Gene Hackman’s commitment to four passes before any shots and defense.
Let’s just get this out now. If you have a team with six players, as they did in that movie, and if they’re undersized, then a focus on defense and an offensive system of four passes before any shot wouldn’t win a championship anywhere in any era.
That movie was dumb when it came out in the 1980s, it didn’t make sense for the 1950s, and everybody who believes otherwise has a nostalgia for an old-school style that doesn’t exist. It’s time to move past it.
Right now, a belief in Tennessee basketball is like a belief in that movie. It’s going to prove costly, and it’s the reason Barnes only has one Final Four appearance on his watch.