Tennessee Defying Preseason Expectations with Hot Start

Posted by David Changas on December 5th, 2017

On Monday morning of this week, Tennessee entered the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2010. And while it has been a very long road back into the national rankings for a program on its fourth head coach in those intervening seasons, things finally appear to be on the upswing in Knoxville. Under third-year coach Rick Barnes, the Volunteers are proving correct those skeptics around the program who scoffed at the SEC media’s  preseason 13th-place projection. Tennessee’s only loss to date came in a semifinal match-up against #4 Villanova at the Battle 4 Atlantis, and even that was a game in which the Vols led by double-figures at the half. Barnes’ team also owns a number of resume-enhancing wins against Purdue, NC State, Georgia Tech and a Mercer club that figures to spend much of the season in the RPI top 100. Another solid mid-major test looms on Saturday against a potent Lipscomb team before a December 17 home date with defending National Champion North Carolina. Even with a loss to the Tar Heels, Tennessee will likely be 9-2 and ranked heading into SEC play later this month.

Sophomore Grant Williams is a major reasons why Rick Barnes’ rebuild is ahead of schedule. (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Since his arrival in Knoxville three years ago, Barnes has regularly received criticism for his recruiting. He has countered with dialogue about finding players to fit his system, and the fruits of his efforts to build a nucleus of solid yet unspectacular players appears to be paying off. This is a particularly interesting turn of events for a coach who came from Texas with a reputation of being a better recruiter than floor coach. Instead, Barnes has built a roster of athletic players who have bought into a system stressing defense and rebounding. The Volunteers are turning opponents over on 25.5 percent of their defensive possessions — good for 12th nationally, per KenPom – and despite lacking significant size, are grabbing 37.2 percent of their misses (17th nationally) on the offensive end. These improvements from last season (126th and 82nd, respectively) can largely be attributed to greater experience and familiarity in Barnes’ system and the development of players who have spent multiple seasons learning it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 11th, 2015


  1. Hilton Coliseum still isn’t so magical for Iowa. The Hawkeyes got a whopping 30 first-half points from Jarrod Uthoff, 17 points in the first five minutes of the second half from Peter Jok and led by 20 early in the second half. Sounds like enough to win, right? No. The Hawkeyes shot 36.4 percent from the field in the second half, got only two points from Uthoff and turned the ball over three times in the final 65 seconds as the Cyclones came back for an 83-82 win. Iowa State’s Monte Morris hit the game-winner with 8.9 seconds left. The bigger controversy was The Des Moines Register reporter Randy Peterson’s broken leg suffered during the court-rushing after the game. His injury prompted more talk about the dangers and necessity of rushing the court.
  2. Thursday’s only other Big Ten game was Penn State’s 81-67 win over Canisius. The Nittany Lions shot 56 percent from the floor, but their 21 turnovers allowed Canisius to hang around until the end. The biggest storyline was freshman Josh Reaves dropping a series of vicious dunks on the Golden Griffins and finishing two points shy of his first career double-double. Penn State also played the game in its former home arena, Rec Hall, as part of a two-game series called Return to Rec.
  3. After a 24-point loss to SMU Tuesday night, Michigan once again saw its frontcourt exposed on both ends of the floor. The Wolverines’ four post players – Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner – produced a total of four points and eight rebounds against a much more athletic SMU front line. A closer look at Michigan’s frontcourt woes shows that those four players have a combined eight defensive rebounds, nine offensive rebounds and eight made field goals in Michigan’s three losses. Weak production like that will lead to similar results against big teams like Maryland and Purdue.
  4. Ten years after becoming head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Rob Jeter finally beat his former mentor and boss, Bo Ryan. His Panthers erased an 11-point halftime deficit en route to a 68-67 win on Wednesday night. Not only was this just the second loss to Milwaukee in Wisconsin history, but it defied all statistical odds. Among the defied statistical trends: The Badgers have only lost 24 home games in Ryan’s 15 seasons, have lost just 33 games after leading at halftime and have won all but 13 games when they had a better field goal percentage than their opponent. Despite the statistical advantage over the Panthers, Wisconsin’s shooting and depth woes persisted.
  5. Purdue’s defensive numbers are impressively low through the season’s first 10 games. The Boilermakers have allowed just 89.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranks second nationally, per KenPom.com. Opponents also shoot just 35.7 percent on twos (first) and have a 37.3 effective field goal percentage (second). While Purdue has knocked off three KenPom top 65 teams, Matt Painter and his players wanted a challenge before having to face elite point guards like Melo Trimble and Yogi Ferrell in conference play. They figured to have one Wednesday night in high-scoring Howard guard James Daniel, who is averaging 28.4 points per game. However, Daniel didn’t play due to injury and Purdue steamrolled the Bison, 93-55.
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