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#8 Tennessee 63, Alabama 56: Initial Impressions

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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.
  • Back to a little bit of good news, in terms of individual performances. Tony Mitchell was excellent in all phases of the game tonight. 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Only a freshman, he is going to see a bigger role as the SEC season progresses, and should be a fixture in the starting lineup in years to come. Although it was a quiet night for almost everyone in crimson, I actually thought Charvez Davis played a very solid game. He hit two big 3s and did a nice job on defense as well as with helping Torrance with ball-handling duties when pressured, something that is not typically his strong suit. Chris Hines had his best offensive performance of the season overall on 4-for-4 shooting. He seems to be gaining confidence each week. Note that each of the guys I singled out is a newcomer to the team this year (Davis and Hines are JuCo transfers).
  • Mikhail Torrance was absolutely taken out of this game, and that just can't happen. He needs to learn to adjust when players play him like Tennessee did. I know he isn't as good driving right, but he is certainly capable of doing it, he just isn't as confident with it. He must drive right when given the opportunity. He also got several good looks at jump shots, and typically he is able to knock some down even though he isn't a great shooter. He got six wide open looks from the perimeter and his stats suggest he would normally knock at least two of those down. If he had, we might be singing a different tune right now. Basically, UT focused their defensive gameplan to stop him, which wasn't his fault, but he could have done more to capitalize on his opportunities. He is the unquestioned leader of this team and has carried the team on the floor this season to 11 wins already and has stuck with the program through some dark times. I hope he has enough left to pick this team back up in the coming weeks.
  • JaMychal Green had an impressive-looking double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but I actually didn't think he played all that well. He was only 5-of-16 shooting and had 5 turnovers. While he was a little more aggresive offensively, which I wanted to see, he struggled to finish around the basket, especially in the first half when Chism was on the bench. He was also caught out of position a few times on defense and turned the ball over too much. Still, it's really a compliment to him that he can put up a double-double without really playing very well; it speaks to the kind of player I think he is and can be. Remember, he is only a sophomore, and while he is already one of our two star players, I think he can be an absolute stud if he sticks with Coach Grant for two more years.
  • As for the other players...Anthony Brock has to start shooting better. He was 0-for-4 from the arc and seeing as we are already painfully short on shooters, he has to start hitting again for us...Justin Knox played his role pretty well tonight...Senario Hillman looked less confident tonight offensively, perhaps still recovering a bit from his ejection against Arkansas. He played well on defense as usual, and might have made some big plays there but I thought the refs were a bit harsh on him several times with a quick whistle...Ben Eblen is still adjusting to the college game, but he can be a valuable bench player for us as the season progresses as an additional ball handler.
  • While 1-3 in the SEC is not a good place to be, Bama will have it's last best opportunity to get things back on track this Saturday when we host #23 Mississippi State. It will be the third straight home game against a top-tier SEC team, and possibly our last chance to beat a ranked team at home this year. A win could keep our hopes alive, especially with a struggling LSU team visiting the following week. If the team sticks together and keeps fighting and improving,and the coaches can make some offensive adjustments, it's not too late to make things interesting down the stretch this season, even after disappointing nights like tonight.