Alabama adjusts perspective of Tennessee basketball

Marvin Westwestwords

Let us quickly make minor revisions to previous thinking.

This may not be the best-ever Tennessee men’s basketball team. It may not be the best in the country at defense. It may not win the Southeastern Conference championship. It won’t be top 10 in the next AP poll.

John Fulkerson

There is new information. Some of it is humbling.

Alas, fresh facts and figures do not include a logical explanation for Alabama coming into Thompson-Boling Arena and shooting out the lights from long range.

It was no surprise that the Tide played bombs away. That is what it does. The inexplicable part is that it could hit five in a row, eight of 11 in the second half, with Volunteers trying to get in the way.

Statistical gurus have been telling Tennessee it is really good on defense. The Vols had generally been capable-plus at guarding the three-point arc. They were not very good Saturday evening.

How to explain slow reactions, bad decisions and horrendous shooting by the home team? Let’s misuse Santiago Vescovi as example 1. At Missouri, he led in scoring and missed one shot. He missed 10 against Alabama. Three were blocked. That suggested he took the ball where he is not supposed to go.

Victor Bailey, not to be outdone, also missed 10. Yves Pons and Josiah-Jordan James each hit one of six. It was not pretty.

Pons did not lose the game. He was tagged with two early fouls, missed half of the action but played with tiger fierceness – when he played. He blocked five shots.

Jaden Springer suffered an early ankle injury. His absence was noticeable. Keon Johnson fought for 12 points and eight rebounds. John Fulkerson was incidental.

Rick Barnes helped less than normal. His persistent quest for information cost a technical foul, two points and a possession.

Based on the rare collection of young athletic talent, overall team speed, coaching genius and my many decades of astute observation, I eased out on a limb and said, just a week ago, that this might develop into the best-ever team.

It still might. Well, it could. It doesn’t have to play Alabama every night. And, maybe most times, it will be ready to rumble.

Far more famous sportswriters and broadcasters who trade exceptional knowledge and foresight for great riches predicted that Tennessee would emerge as SEC champion. The experts did not, collectively, expect a home loss to the Crimson Tide.

This upset was frustrating. And convincing.

Alabama beat Tennessee at its own game. It played better defense. It destroyed the inside-out strategy. The Vols couldn’t (or didn’t) get the ball to Fulkerson. Barnes said the senior center didn’t do enough to help himself.

Alabama won in the paint. Alabama was much better in transition.

Alabama made plenty of mistakes. It left the door open for a Tennessee comeback. The Vols missed that opportunity. They missed, period. They shot 31.8 per cent. Their three-point attack was 19 per cent. They missed nine free throws. Fulkerson missed five.

“Everything rises and falls with leadership,” said JJ James. “I think me, Santi and our starting group, this loss really falls on us. Credit to Alabama, they played a really good game, but down the stretch, they gave us plenty of opportunities to come back … and we didn’t execute.

“It was definitely a humbling experience and definitely a lesson for us.”

Barnes was not warm and fuzzy.

“If they were overconfident, it is over with now.”

“Our offense was terrible. Give Alabama credit.”

“We just weren’t good and we got exactly what we deserved.”

“We didn’t deserve to win and they did.”

The coach said Fulky couldn’t guard anybody.

“I may change the lineup, do some things. Even John. As far as I’m concerned, guys can take his minutes. He’s been around long enough; he’s got to bring more than he brought. He’s got to do it.”

That creates a question: Was this real or was it a rare clunker?

Best guess, subject to change: The Vols are not quite as good as 7-0 and the victory at Missouri implied. They aren’t as bad as Alabama made them appear. There is little time to sulk. Arkansas will be here on Wednesday. It plays faster.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is

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