The Tennessee Volunteers went into Nashville last week as the No. 3 seed in the SEC Basketball Tournament, something they had not won since 1979.
Tennessee did NOT win the SEC Tournament once again, shockingly enough, falling to the Auburn Tigers, 84-64 in the championship game on Sunday. It was really bad, guys!
However, for as bad as it ended, we must still take some time to reflect on some positive moments that happened on Broadway. That’s why AJ Cook and myself have teamed up to give you The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly from Tennessee’s three-game stay in the SEC Tournament:
A Comeback For The Ages Against The Cats
Despite how the weekend ended for the Vols, it should not erase the memory of what will, indeed, go down in history as one of the best games in Tennessee hoops history.
In the rubber match between Tennessee and Kentucky on Saturday, the second semifinal of the day at Bridgestone Arena lived up to the pregame hype and then some. In each contest of the regular season series, the home team blew out the visitor with Kentucky winning in Lexington 86-69 and the Vols returning the favor two weeks later in Knoxville, 71-52. It was only fitting that part III went down to the wire at a “neutral” site.
Of course, I say “neutral” in the sense that this game did not take place on the campus of either school. But, let’s face it, Big Blue Nation prides itself on taking over the SEC Tournament. Hell, it’s plenty of UK fans’ annual vacation. So, naturally, despite the game taking place in Tennessee’s capital city, Bridgestone was majority blue, with plenty of orange in the building, too (bless them).
Although both squads attempted to land hay-makers with big shots and runs, there was not much breathing room. However, it looked like Tennessee’s weekend was going to be cut short later in the game, as the Cats extended their lead to seven with 5:10 left. The Vols would cut it to five, but after Keldon Johnson converted an and-one opportunity with 2:58 left to make Kentucky’s lead 72-64, all hope seemed lost.
I demand what followed to be injected into my veins.
What happened on Sunday aside, if you tell me before this season that Tennessee plays Kentucky three times (again), wins two of them (again), only this time a victory is in the SEC Tournament? Uh, yeah, sign me up.
The Governor Of Mississippi Strikes Again
It was not a charge and Robert Woodard II’s birth certificate has been altered to show that Admiral Donovhan Schofield is his father.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
– Tanner Carson
The weekend started off with a fairly solid performance against Mississippi State in this regard. The Bulldogs managed to go 9-of-25 from beyond the arc. Which isn’t great, but isn’t too bad either. Then came Kentucky, whose offense isn’t exactly centered around the long ball. Even then, UK managed to notch a pretty solid day, going 5-of-11 from deep.
Then came the Auburn game. Where Kentucky doesn’t really focus on the the 3-ball, Auburn’s entire offense is centered around it. The Tigers went an incredible 15-of-40 from deep, which is unheard of in a major conference championship game. It worked, obviously, but more on that game in a bit.
Over all three games, Tennessee allowed its opponents to go 29-of-76 from beyond the arc. Good for 38.2 percent. For comparison, UT-Martin was ranked 337th this season in opponent 3-point field goal percentage at, you guessed it, 38.2 percent.
Rick Barnes’ Career Record In Conference Championships
Before we go any further, please understand that this isn’t me calling for Barnes’ head. He deserves a lot of credit for all that this team has accomplished this season. It wasn’t an accident, after all, that they made the championship to begin with.
With that said, the loss on Sunday puts Barnes’ career record in conference championship games at 1-8. His only win was with his 1993-94 Providence squad. For a coach with a reputation of disappearing in March, this loss will certainly feed the fire of his doubters. That’s not even to mention his sub-.500 career record in the NCAA Tournament.
The Auburn Game. All Of It.
Anyone who watched it knows just how bad that game was. Whether it was the barrage of 15 made 3-pointers, or the 17 turnovers, the whole game was a mess. Lamonte Turner and and Grant Williams both had four turnovers, while Schofield and Jordan Bone both had three. All in all, Tennessee’s 17 turnovers was tied for its worst output of the season. Schofield only notched four points, his lowest scoring output since the NC State game in Nov. 2017. Tennessee could only manage three total offensive rebounds, its worst output of the season. It could also only manage 11 assists, the second-worst showing of the season. Auburn also contributed six blocks, tied for the most Tennessee has given up this season in a single game.
Basically, it was pretty much the worst game Tennessee played this season in almost every possible way. To make matters worse, it came at a really, really bad time.
Team Accolades (Or Lack thereof)
This is what probably hurts the most. This year’s team is quite possibly one of the best in Tennessee history. And what do they have to show for it, so far? As far as the team goes, nothing really. Sure, if you want to count the incredible win streak or the few weeks at the top of the polls, you wouldn’t be wrong. But do either of those achievements yield a banner when it’s all said and done? Nope.
The good news is there is still time. The NCAA Tournament bracket seems to set up pretty well for Tennessee to at least make a run at the Final Four. And don’t forget about the individual achievements, while we’re talking about awards:
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) March 12, 2019
Still though, it hurts to understand that Tennessee just barely missed on opportunities to win the SEC regular season and tournament titles.
– AJ Cook