Tennessee 55, FAU 62

Tennessee's season came to a disappointing but not unpredictable end on Thursday night, losing to Florida Atlantic 62-55 in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. I say "not unpredictable" because anyone who watched these Vols play all season knew that whenever the season ended, it would be due to a lack of offensive identity. Peep the shot chart: 

Going by shot selection, which team appears to have a plan they're trying to execute, and which team appears to be "spraying and praying"? FAU's game plan is get to the rim or shoot a three and that's what the chart shows. Meanwhile, Tennessee seems to want to chuck shots and hope someone gets hot. It works sometimes, like it did against Duke. But not on Thursday night. 

Both Josiah-Jordan James and Uros Plasvic looked like contenders to heat up early, but cooled after strong starts. 

It was actually Jonas Aidoo that led UT in scoring with 10 points on 4/5 shooting (and led with 7 rebounds, too) despite only playing 21 minutes. Let that marinate--the guy who led UT in scoring and rebounding, in a game where Tennessee desperately needed scoring and rebounding, only played 21 minutes. 

Much has been made too of the 15-2 run FAU made in the second half, but there's another stretch where things went disastrous for the Vols. From 4:03 in the first half (when Tennessee stretched to a 9-point lead) until 9:52 in the second half (when FAU took a lead they'd never look back from), Tennessee was outscored 25-14. In that 15ish minutes of game time, UT was 5/19 shooting, including just 2/8 in the paint. Tyreke Key and Uros were particularly inept in that stretch, going a combined 1/8 from the field. 

Postmortem: Despite the disappointing finish, Tennessee had a pretty good basketball season overall. This team was maddening to watch at times. Losing twice to a pretty mediocre Kentucky team hurt, and the back-to-back buzzer beater losses to Vandy and Mizzou were perplexing. But there were some fun wins along the way, too. This team beat Gonzaga, Kansas, Texas, and Alabama. The Duke win to advance to the Sweet 16 is one of my favorite Vol wins, ever. 

Compared to the days of Wade Houston, Kevin O’Neil, or Buzz Peterson, the fact that Tennessee makes the tournament under Rick Barnes every year is a treat. At the same time, portions of the fan base that are tired of seeing the Vols make an earlier-than-needed exit from the tournament have valid concerns, too. Barnes is kinda turning into a likable Jerry Green, which is 100% preferable to the Jerry Green we got the first time. As long as Rick doesn’t tell fans to spend their Saturdays at Walmart instead of TBA, we should be fine.  


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