Now is the time to recognize and appreciate stability in college basketball.
There was a time Tennessee lost regularly (four in a row) to LSU in Baton Rouge. Tough stop on the SEC circuit.
LSU finally faced reality, took one more look at the list of seven level 1 NCAA allegations and fired coach Will Wade the day before tournament selection Sunday.
On April Fools’ Day the 13th Tiger entered the transfer portal. Three substitutes remained. The basketball program was starting over.
Eleven days into Matt McMahon’s coaching tenure, he didn’t have even one returning scholarship player. That discovery may never be forgotten:
“Hey, before too long, we play Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn … and we don’t have any players.”
McMahon gathered some up.
“We have essentially 13 new players,” the coach said. “We’re trying to take these talented men and build them into one cohesive unit.”
On Saturday evening they gave good effort against Tennessee. They did not appear particularly cohesive. They had 19 turnovers. The Vols cashed in those errors for 33 points. The Vols won. 77-56. There was a time the gap was greater.
Rick Barnes’ team is 6-1 in the SEC race. Matt McMahon’ team is 1-6.
One of Barnes’ goals is consistency. It is very difficult to achieve. Players do not generally hit all of anything. The campaign continues. Barnes is not known for giving up on anything.
Consistency is a reward for experience and maturity. The Vols have that. Just count the seniors.
Barnes expects, demands, aggressiveness. Veteran Volunteers provided points and leadership – code for toughness.
LSU made its first three goals and Tennessee responded defensively. It smothered the Tigers for more than nine minutes. That shutout included nine misses.
Josiah-Jordan James, still working toward basketball condition, led the winners with nine for 16 shooting (four of six threes). He, Tyreke Key and Jonas Aidoo had seven rebounds each. Key was new as a backboard warrior. He missed the previous game with illness.
“I thought Tyreke was terrific,” said Barnes. “He has been under the weather. You know what, early in the game, they were out-rebounding us. He and Julian (Phillips) probably changed the rebounding. Tyreke got three big offensive rebounds. Worked hard defensively. Santi, I didn’t realize he played as many minutes as he played. Santi really wasn’t well at all.”
Vescovi missed the Mississippi State game with a shoulder injury but played 31 minutes against the Tigers. Zakai Zeigler played all 40 minutes against the Bulldogs and only 37 this time. Key helped at the point.
Ziggy had another double-double – 12 points and 10 assists.
Uroš Plavšić missed this game.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Barnes. “We have a bunch of guys under the weather right now. “Santi was not feeling good. Did very little in practice. Julian (Phillips) wasn’t feeling great. Obviously got some other guys, Uroš, others, that haven’t felt well. Really proud of them, the way they came in and fought through it.”
Barnes liked the idea of winning two on the road while dealing with an injury and illness.
“What I told the guys, we’re a good basketball team right now, but we’ve got to get a lot better. Whatever we need to do, we need to all get better. Coaches have to get better, players have to get better, because there’s a lot of basketball left. We can’t stay pat where we’re at right now.”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].