Freeze Frame: Tennessee’s Failed Offensive ExecutionPosted by Brian Joyce on December 14th, 2016
If there is such a thing as a moral victory, Tennessee exited Chapel Hill with a massive win on Sunday night. As Rick Barnes‘ Volunteers led a more experienced and talented North Carolina club by as many as 15 points in the first half, it felt as though we were watching the second-year SEC coach’s coming-out party. But Barnes wasn’t interested in victories that don’t count in the win column, saying afterward: “I don’t want them to feel good about being close in games. We’ve got to figure out a way to get over the hump.” If Tennessee is going to get over that hump this season, it will need to find a better way to get the ball to wing Robert Hubbs — something the Volunteers failed to do with the game on the line over the weekend.
Tennessee’s offense completely sputtered down the stretch in Chapel Hill, scoring just five points in the critical last five minutes of the game. Hubbs dominated the wing, scoring 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting before sitting with cramps with just over five minutes remaining. When he returned to the Vols’ lineup at the 3:35 mark, his teammates failed to get him the ball on three critical possessions down the stretch. In the first scenario — with Tennessee up one point and 2:46 remaining — Shembari Phillips dribbled around the perimeter for most of the shot clock before giving it to freshman Grant Williams so he could settle for a contested three-point jumper. Here is the offensive set in all of its glory.
In the second critical possession, the Vols — now trailing by one point with less than two minutes remaining — drew up a play out of a timeout to get Hubbs the ball. As the screenshot below shows, Hubbs moves across the lane as if to set a screen along the baseline before pivoting to post up his defender. Phillips then dribbles to the right wing for the post entry pass, but North Carolina’s Kenny Williams plays such great denial defense that Hubbs ends up about 18 feet from the basket. The play fails. Phillips has nowhere to go, so he instead hands the ball off again to Williams at the top of the key, who quickly drives and turns the ball over.
After a couple of back and forth plays for each team, Tennessee then trailed the Tar Heels by two points with 8.9 seconds remaining. As the next screenshot shows, Lamonte Turner drives the lane but never looks in Hubbs’ direction. He wasn’t alone — as Turner draws the attention of defender Tony Bradley, he also fails to see Phillips (bottom right) making a backdoor cut to the rim and freshman John Fulkerson (left center) cutting wide open down the middle of the lane.
With the game on the line last weekend, Tennessee on three separate occasions failed to give its star a chance to make a play. Barnes certainly knows that his team needs to put the ball in the hands of its senior leader to earn some actual victories, but there’s only one more shot at a signature non-conference win available — versus Gonzaga on Sunday in Nashville. If they are going to pull off the big upset over the Zags, it will surely be with Hubbs leading the way.