A few thoughts in the initial aftermath of the Tide's disappointing loss to the Tennessee Volunteers on Tuesday night:
- As has been the case since Coach Grant's arrival in Tuscaloosa, our guys played hard and were competitive against high-level competition. That said, there is no way to sugar coat what this loss means for us moving forward. This was likely our last chance to beat a top-15 team this season. Having already played probably the second and third best teams in the league in Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and getting Kentucky on the road later on means this was probably it in terms of a major signature victory.
- First, the good news. Our defense was nothing short of superb, which was no surprise as we have been one of the SEC's best defensive teams all season long. Coach Grant deserves a lot of credit in this department. Defense was a consistent weakness under former coach Mark Gottfried and Grant has turned that around completely. While our chances of making waves this season are fast dwindling, Coach Grant is building a defensive foundation and mindset that will serve us well in future years when (hopefully) we have more offensive playmakers to take advantage on the other end. For now though, our defense is good enough to keep us in games with anyone. Heck, we almost pulled it out tonight against a top 10 team despite a woeful offensive performance.
- Now for the bad news. I'm not sure if "woeful" is a strong enough word to describe what we did on the offensive end of the floor tonight. We shot under 38% for the game and made only 22 shots in 40 minutes of play. We had 14 turnovers and only got to the foul line 11 times in the game. Those numbers only tell part of the story though, as we constantly found ourselves struggling to beat the shot clock and got next to nothing in transition on the night, something our offense relies heavily upon.
- Love him or hate him, you have to give UT Coach Bruce Pearl and his staff credit for the defensive game plan they put together in this one. Not only did he correctly identify exactly what the Vols needed to do to stop us offensively, but the players on defense executed the scouting report and game plan to perfection. The players knew exactly what the coaches wanted them to do and the way they wanted them to play each player, and they did it. My respect for Bruce Pearl as a floor coach has grown after this one.
- Now for the really, really bad news. While Tennessee is possibly the best defensive team in the conference and not every team we play will be able to execute as well as they did or will have the talent that they do, every SEC coach from M$U's Rick Stansbury to Auburn's Jeff Lebo will likely look at UT's defensive game plan and at least try to emulate it. I know I would. The way their perimeter defenders took away Torrance's left-handed drives was chillingly effective, and as I've been saying all season, our offense is completely impotent if you prevent Torrance from penetrating into the lane. Tennessee also did a very admirable job of getting back defensively off of missed shots and preventing us from getting easy looks in transition.