Photo By Ian Cox/ Tennessee Athletics
After a sustained stretch of strong offensive performances, Tennessee basketball laid an egg on the offensive end in both of its games this week.
The numbers are staggering and certainly not in a good way. The Vols combined to shoot 36-of-131 (27%) from the field and seven-of-46 (15%) from three-point range. The fact that Tennessee split games shooting that poorly is a real testament to its defense and its ability to learn from its mistakes.
“I think a game like that shows a lot of character,” senior forward Josiah-Jordan James said following Tennessee’s win over Auburn. “How you respond when you’re not making shots. I feel like we responded really well on the defensive end unlike what we did against Florida when shots weren’t falling. I think we learned a lot from that game. Many lessons were learned.”
We took a deep dive looking at some of Tennessee’s prevailing offensive issues following the Florida game and the potential solutions to the inevitably of poor shooting performances. But Tennessee’s offensive issues largely boil down to its best players shooting poorly.
Seniors Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James as well as sophomore point guard Zakai Zeigler are Tennessee’s top offensive options. The trio combined to shoot 17-of-71 (24%) while scoring 55 points in the two games. If it wasn’t for James’ strong 15 point performance against Auburn, it would have been an 0-2 week for Tennessee.
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The best way for the Vols’ offense to get back on track is the trio to start playing better on the offensive end.
“I don’t expect Zakai to go 0-for-10 (from the field) or 0-for-7 (from three),” Barnes said following the Auburn game. “He had (six) assists, (three) turnovers and two of them he was trying to put the ball inside there, but we’ve got guys.
“I just have confidence that we’re going to find a way to work our way out of this. I really believe that.”
Barnes confidence in Tennessee’s offense largely stems from his confidence in the Vols’ top players. The eighth-year Tennessee coach was quick to defend Zeigler’s rough week adding, “what would help him as much as anything is if he can get some people around him to score some baskets.”
The confidence also comes from the quality of shots Tennessee is taking.
“You know, (Tennessee SID Tom Satkowiak) sent me a stat that the shots that we took (against Florida), we make 70% of the time,” Barnes said. “I think you guys would agree. I think our players would agree. We had some shots tonight we need to make.”
After facing two of the nation’s top 12 teams in adjusted defensive efficiency last week, Tennessee gets a reprieve this week when it heads to Vanderbilt (185th in defensive efficiency) before returning home to host a strong Missouri offense but poor defense (175th).
Tip-off between Tennessee and Vanderbilt in Nashville is at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday night. The SEC Network is broadcasting the game.