Mike Strange: Vols looking for answers

Mike Strange
Tennessee's Scotty Hopson tries to work his way around USC's Donte Smith.

Photo by Saul Young

Tennessee's Scotty Hopson tries to work his way around USC's Donte Smith.

Kevin O’Neill has seen basketball teams struggle offensively in Thompson-Boling Arena before. Only back in the day, they were his teams.

From the visitors’ bench Tuesday night, fixing Tennessee’s problems wasn’t his agenda.

“They’re searching a little bit right now,’’ O’Neill said. “Everybody goes through those periods in their schedule.

“They’re going to be a good team. They’re going to bounce back. No question about that.’’

But for now, there’s no question that the Vol Express that rolled out of Pittsburgh on Dec. 10 has jumped the tracks.

A 65-64 loss to O’Neill’s Southern Cal Trojans marked only the second time UT has dropped three consecutive games in the Bruce Pearl Era.

“Frustrating, man. Very frustrating,’’ said junior Cam Tatum.

“I can’t remember the last time I lost three games in a row. Maybe my freshman year of high school.’’

Tuesday’s finish was almost a carbon copy of a 49-48 loss at Charlotte on Friday.

Just like Charlotte, the Vols, trailing by a point, rushed up court after a defensive possession only to have to call a timeout because of spacing and congestion issues.

Friday, they had 3.3 seconds and ended up with a low-percentage shot, a long 3-pointer by Tatum.

Tuesday, it was 3.5 seconds. They ended up with another long 3-pointer, this time by Tobias Harris.

It almost went in. Almost is getting to be a problem.

Since whipping Big East bad boy Pittsburgh convincingly, Tennessee has lost to a pair of mid-majors – Oakland and Charlotte - and now a pretty fair Southern Cal team that took Kansas to the wire three days earlier.

The only previous three-game skid in Pearl’s tenure was Vanderbilt-Ohio State-Auburn, all on the road in January 2007.

That team regrouped to reach the Sweet 16. This one has the potential to do as much.

But for now it better find enough answers to beat Belmont on Thursday night. The same Bruins pushed UT to the limit on Nov. 16. An 85-76 Tennessee win was a one-point game with 36 seconds to play.

Against Southern Cal, the Vols were fighting upstream the entire way. They trailed by 10 points, then eight, 51-43, and never led by more than two.

“Twenty-seven (Southern Cal) points off of 18 turnovers is probably what killed us,’’ said Pearl.

“If we could execute our offense and not turn the ball over we could put ourselves in position to win.’’

Both of the final possessions, at Charlotte and against Southern Cal, were representative of Tennessee’s problems. This team seems at a loss as to how to set up high-percentage shots. Spacing and timing are out of sync or out of reach.

All of a sudden Scotty Hopson shots are not high-percentage.

Since he did a number on Pittsburgh, Hopson is 8-of-31 from the field, including 1-of-10 from 3-point range.

“He’s trying,’’ said Pearl. “He’s working in practice.

“But he’s struggling and it affects his whole game and it affects our entire team.’’

To spacing, timing and errant shooting, add rotation issues to UT’s laundry list. The bench isn’t providing a lift. Pearl hinted adjustments might be forthcoming, but not until after the Christmas break.

It will be a merry Christmas break for O’Neill, who started UT out of the doldrums in a colorful three-year run before leaving abruptly in 1997. His new gig at Southern Cal is looking up.

“If you had told me we’d lose by a bucket at Kansas and win here when I scheduled those games,’’ he said, “I wouldn’t have believed it.’’

And if, on the way home from Pittsburgh 11 days ago, somebody had said the Vols were derailing into a three-game losing streak?

We wouldn’t have believed it either.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2010 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Related Stories

Comments » 23

VolunteerLifer writes:

As long as we keep doing the job defensively, we'll be fine when the offense comes around. The team has to get mentally tougher and has to find a floor leader. Maybe one is related to the other. I believe Harris is the leader in waiting. The others don't have the right stuff for leadership, sorry to say.

OrangePride writes:

The Vols are struggling? Massive understatement. Beyond the turnover points (which were huge) Tennessee again shot poorly, refused the open outside shots, continuously forced balls into traffic, and had too many missed foul shots. In other words, they played about the same as they did the two games before. SOMEBODY has to ignite Hopson and Hopson needs to regain some confidence. Right now he is totally out of sync and has very little floor presence. Until we can show teams we can burn them from beyond 25 feet, we will not be beating any of the good ones. I guess then, it's back to the gym and work like heck to get it all back on track.

flatrock writes:

Not sure why anyone would boo O'Neill. He pulled
the U.T. program out of its lowest point- the
Wade Houston Mistake- and left Jerry Green with
a roster full of talent. If O'Neill could have
kept his zipper closed, the Vol program might have been well-established now- instead of
plunging into the ashes of NCAA fallout. Back office rumblings: the NCAA wants Pearl gone
for good and is threatening UT with TV ban,
tourney ban and scholarship losses if Mike Hamilton doesn't go along. It will be ugly.
Very ugly.

FeelVol writes:

in response to flatrock:

Not sure why anyone would boo O'Neill. He pulled
the U.T. program out of its lowest point- the
Wade Houston Mistake- and left Jerry Green with
a roster full of talent. If O'Neill could have
kept his zipper closed, the Vol program might have been well-established now- instead of
plunging into the ashes of NCAA fallout. Back office rumblings: the NCAA wants Pearl gone
for good and is threatening UT with TV ban,
tourney ban and scholarship losses if Mike Hamilton doesn't go along. It will be ugly.
Very ugly.

Well I do get the feeling that Pearl will be gone after this year not sure about all the gossip you imply,as for this years version of the Vols after watching them a few times its clear to me who their best all around player is.At least Coach Pearl realizes that the turnovers cost us this game of which Hopson and Tatum had the majority.

nola_vol writes:

With such a deep bench, why no press? Do not enough of our current players understand it? Do we no longer have the type of players to run it?

In this game, for example, the ability to force a turnover at our end of the court AT ANY TIME during that final 3 minutes would have changed the game entirely, negating USC's ability to run time off the clock (before clocking another 3!) in their set offense.

nola_vol writes:

You know, given our propensity for beating top-ranked foes (and inability to beat "merely good" teams... maybe the best thing for these Vols would be to enter March Madness as a 13 to 15 seed!

sportspeak writes:

in response to Plasticman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I am just blown away by how our fans can't see Pearl for what he is. A few weeks ago you wanted to keep him at all costs because he was a winner-now he's lost 3 games in a row and you STILL want to keep him? Sounds like you just need attention, whether it's good or bad. Well right now it's pretty bad and UT is the laughingstock.
Winning with integrity is better any day than winning by cheating. I can't believe that people in our great state have sunk this low.
I remember what UTBB was before BP-HONEST!!!!!!

volsfan74 writes:

in response to Plasticman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Plasticman I agree to some degree. If the NCAA hands down a 1 or 2 year post season band and a couple scholly's yes Hammy needs to "stand by his man", but if the NCAA get's ridiculous and suspends him for a year or 2 years UT doesn't have much of a choice but to find a new coach.

dcap8424 writes:

in response to sportspeak:

I am just blown away by how our fans can't see Pearl for what he is. A few weeks ago you wanted to keep him at all costs because he was a winner-now he's lost 3 games in a row and you STILL want to keep him? Sounds like you just need attention, whether it's good or bad. Well right now it's pretty bad and UT is the laughingstock.
Winning with integrity is better any day than winning by cheating. I can't believe that people in our great state have sunk this low.
I remember what UTBB was before BP-HONEST!!!!!!

Who's laughing? Sounds like you need attention from such an idiotic post.

How have we won by cheating? Did having any of those recruits over at his house or by excessively calling them win any games for us? The only recruit that even stayed was McRae and he doesn't even play. What Pearl did by LYING was wrong, but to call him a cheater is ignorant.

hikerdude writes:

in response to nola_vol:

With such a deep bench, why no press? Do not enough of our current players understand it? Do we no longer have the type of players to run it?

In this game, for example, the ability to force a turnover at our end of the court AT ANY TIME during that final 3 minutes would have changed the game entirely, negating USC's ability to run time off the clock (before clocking another 3!) in their set offense.

Not quick enough.

esarmstrong#231516 writes:

in response to volsfan74:

Plasticman I agree to some degree. If the NCAA hands down a 1 or 2 year post season band and a couple scholly's yes Hammy needs to "stand by his man", but if the NCAA get's ridiculous and suspends him for a year or 2 years UT doesn't have much of a choice but to find a new coach.

If we wait until the NCAA hands down punishment then we've waited too long. Those of you who say just gut out a one or two year ban, have you considered what may happen if our upper classmen are allowed to transfer?

I too think Bruce is gone either at the end of this year or before. I hear no rumors. Just call it a gut feeling. Why has Bruce still not signed that new contract with its rather purgatorial new provisions and lower salary provisions?!

And yes, I too remember UT BB pre-Bruce. I was going to games as a youngster when Mears was coach and we had players like Mike Edwards, Jimmy England, Lynn Kosmalski (sp.?), Rodney Woods, and of course King and Grunfeld.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Seems like at this point, if Scotty struggles, the whole team struggles! Harris has been off the mark from earlier, too, but he does so many things to contribute that I think he'll work through his shooting woes. The whole team seems to settle for threes too soon and too often! But, Pearl will bring them around by dance time!

Ironcity writes:

in response to DukeDeLuca:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Duke we hit over 82% for the night. Other then Maymonn getting a lane violation on his own make, I have no complaints. Williams is a lousy FT shooter but thats not what lost us the game!!!

Lack of true ball handlers is a real issue and its why our offense looks so disjointed. I would also like to see Tatum and Hopson switch sides more often. It seems Hopson only drives the lane from the left side leaving himself vulnerable to the strip. This team has potential but its the poorest passing teams in the Pearl era by far and thats got to be corrected for us to move forward.

It might mean we get smaller and start playing Golden at the two when Bone comes back.

volsfan74 writes:

in response to esarmstrong#231516:

If we wait until the NCAA hands down punishment then we've waited too long. Those of you who say just gut out a one or two year ban, have you considered what may happen if our upper classmen are allowed to transfer?

I too think Bruce is gone either at the end of this year or before. I hear no rumors. Just call it a gut feeling. Why has Bruce still not signed that new contract with its rather purgatorial new provisions and lower salary provisions?!

And yes, I too remember UT BB pre-Bruce. I was going to games as a youngster when Mears was coach and we had players like Mike Edwards, Jimmy England, Lynn Kosmalski (sp.?), Rodney Woods, and of course King and Grunfeld.

You make some valid points. As far as keeping UT Basketball on the map if we keep putting money into the bball program we will stay relevant. If (the key word is IF) we loose/ fire CBP we can get another big time coach if we offer the right $$$. I like CBP (the NCAA is making him the poster child) and I wish I felt better about the rulings the NCAA are going to hand out BUT I do feel like the NCAA is coming down hard and as much as I support CBP, protecting our University is more important. In all honesty my "GUT" tells me we are going to be in a coaching search by the end of the season and possibly a new AD.

OrangePride writes:

in response to flatrock:

Not sure why anyone would boo O'Neill. He pulled
the U.T. program out of its lowest point- the
Wade Houston Mistake- and left Jerry Green with
a roster full of talent. If O'Neill could have
kept his zipper closed, the Vol program might have been well-established now- instead of
plunging into the ashes of NCAA fallout. Back office rumblings: the NCAA wants Pearl gone
for good and is threatening UT with TV ban,
tourney ban and scholarship losses if Mike Hamilton doesn't go along. It will be ugly.
Very ugly.

IF, the rumor you are hearing is substantiated and true, my feeling is that Pearl would likely resign by himself and NOT put Tennessee thru that kind of ugly Tennessee vs. the NCAA ordeal. I know that a lot of posters here seem to now feel Pearl has no itegrity, but I am not one.....at least not at this point. My hope is that these are just rumors, but when I look at the hub bub around the supposed "VIP treatment" for football players at a joint like Bar Knoxville (which ain't exactly the Trump Tower Suite), what you are hearing is certainly not out of the question for an out of control NCAA. For now, I'm sitting tight and we will see. OH, and you are right about O'Niell, he did pull our bacon out of the fire.

volsfan74 writes:

Can someone tell me why Jordan McRae isn't playing? I hear it's because he is not catching on defensively, but we need offense if he can provide some points then he needs to be on the floor some. I hate to say what I am fixing to say but is the fear that if McRae gets PT that's one more person in front of SPearl in the rotation? Just asking.

rbhobbs73#226545 writes:

It seems obvious that for whatever reason, Pearl has decided to redshirt McRae.

That is the only reason I can see for him not playing at this point.

I agree with the posters on the other thread...Stephen Pearl and Skyler McBee are not the reason we are losing games, but I also can see that neither should be on the floor in a Division 1 College Basketball game.

You all are correct in that ballhandling and lack of leadership,on the court,and substitution patterns are the biggest problems right now. We have to remember that it is December and try not to panic yet.

Go Vols!

martinvol34 writes:

in response to BigVolFaninSC:

Seems like at this point, if Scotty struggles, the whole team struggles! Harris has been off the mark from earlier, too, but he does so many things to contribute that I think he'll work through his shooting woes. The whole team seems to settle for threes too soon and too often! But, Pearl will bring them around by dance time!

Are you as idiotic as you write? Do you know how many wide open shots this team dribbled away last night beyond the arc. All of you on here calling for Bruce Pearl's head are not true VOLS. Quit reading this junk if it drives you to a frenzy. All will be well. Hamilton gets paid a lot more than you f*ck wads to do a job that obviously none of us can do any better because we are not in the position. Merry Christmas and get a life!

JohnnyU writes:

I'm not throwing Pearl under the bus, as many on here seem eager to do. I also do not buy that he is going to be, in effect, blackballed by the NCAA. If that were the case, I agree with another poster who said he would probably leave on his own. As far as struggles on the court go, I think Coach Pearl is well equipped to work this team through it. I say stick with him and his program.

theoldbear writes:

This team still lacks leadership. The changes/additions have caused a total lack of chemistry, a total break-down in both team offense and team defense.

I've been a defender of Steven Pearl. No more. I've been a McBee fan. No more.

Brian Williams has come a long way. Still has a way to go.

Scotty Hopson is going the wrong way, and so from what I saw last night, are Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins.

Tobias Harris is the only player I see that we can build a team around, as Mears built teams around Ron Widby, Dale Ellis, and then Ernie and Bernard.

And in regards to the post about Pearl and Williams dribbling before they shoot, that was right on!

BK would have had the ball in the hole, and so would Dale or any other good offensive player.

Heard a coach say years ago, "If you have to squat and dribble, you're a sissy!" Or something like that! I'm old, I forget.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to martinvol34:

Are you as idiotic as you write? Do you know how many wide open shots this team dribbled away last night beyond the arc. All of you on here calling for Bruce Pearl's head are not true VOLS. Quit reading this junk if it drives you to a frenzy. All will be well. Hamilton gets paid a lot more than you f*ck wads to do a job that obviously none of us can do any better because we are not in the position. Merry Christmas and get a life!

No, I'm not an idiot!...Why don't you tell me how many 3s they dribbled away from if you are so much smarter?!...I CHALLENGE you to find a post from me that says Pearl should be gone!...You won't find one! So maybe YOU are the idiot! My observations are from several games, not just this one! And I stand by my opinion that the team settles for too many 3s! Any team needs balance on the floor and THIS team doesn't work the ball to the post enough! But, like I said before, I believe Pearl will have them ready after they get some more chemistry worked out! Is that POSITIVE enough for you, Idiot-martin?!...and I didn't have to degrade myself disguising an expletive! Next time read the entire post!

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to AtlantaHawk:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I need some post Christmas cash. Would you like to put a wager on that? The NCAA will hammer UT and Pearl. Book it

BleedsOrangeinMO writes:

WOW!!! Some of you are getting your shorts in a wad. It is the Holiday season and the Vols are giving away BB games for Christmas. Just wait unti after the holidays and they will start winning again - - - I hope. Yes, we should have won all three of those games; seems we can't win against teams that "pack it in" and make us shoot from outside or make us beat them off the dribble. I can't believe we have no play makers. This team MUST learn to win the ugly games, physical games.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features